Amgen Drug May Stunt Asthma Attacks From Allergies

May 20, 2014 4:13 pm ET

(Updates with closing shares in the sixth paragraph.)

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- An experimental compound from Amgen Inc. succeeded in blunting allergic asthma attacks by blocking a protein newly found to cause symptoms, researchers said.

The drug, called AMG 157, focuses on a signaling protein known as thymic stromal lymphopoietin that previously hadn’t been considered a treatment target. The early stage study, reported today in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that AMG 157, blocked both early and late asthmatic responses.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Paul O’Byrne, the study’s lead investigator and chairman of the executive committee of the nonprofit Global Initiative for Asthma. “It’s too early to say if it’s going be effective in treatment. but if it is, it can be a game-changer.”

More than 3,400 people died in 2010 from asthma and more than 400,000 people were hospitalized, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 40 million Americans, or 13 percent of the population, are diagnosed with the malady, according to a 2011 survey.

The Amgen drug is given intravenously every four weeks, potentially making it more effective than already marketed daily treatments, O’Byrne said. Existing drugs target varying proteins, with as many as 15 percent of users showing no benefit at all, he said.

Amgen rose less than 1 percent to $112.22 at the close in New York.

AMG 157 was tested in 31 patients with mild allergic asthma in the proof-of-concept study. Amgen is developing the drug with AstraZeneca Plc. Recruitment for a Phase II study has begun, said Cuyler Mayer, a spokesman for Thousand Oaks, California- based Amgen. He said it was too soon to have a timeline on the research.

“We are encouraged by these early results,” Mayer said. They “add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that inhibiting TSLP could be beneficial.”

Asthma patients now use inhaled treatments including Flovent HFA from GlaxoSmithKline Plc. Patients with more severe asthma may take Glaxo’s Advair or AstraZeneca’s Symbicort.

“Although this newcomer has earned our respect, it is an open question as to whether this strategy will be successful in the treatment of patients with asthma,” the medical journal’s editorial said.