There has been substantial research coming out of the woodworks from across the country in so many areas of health. But, when you are living with a disease and finally find that medication which makes you feel like yourself again, there is truly nothing like it.
This was the case for Jennifer Falkiner. She had been diagnosed with asthma in her thirties and that progressed over time to severe asthma. Even the simple things we all take for granted became difficult, and little joys such as going to the movies, or having a solid nights sleep were taken away from her.
It is only now participating in an innovative clinical trial for severe uncontrolled asthma with the use of Fasenra – a respiratory biologic – and the research of Dr. Mark Fitzgerald, primary researcher of the study, that her quality of life and her motivation has returned. “It has been a transformation,” Jennifer says.
In the beginning, she wasn’t aware that she even had asthma. Starting as just a respiratory infection, her doctor gave her antibiotics and a puffer, but the infection was persistent and happened again and again. It was only upon going to another doctor that she was informed that she had asthma.
Over the years, Jennifer was put on a slew of puffers and medications and yet she still could not stop coughing – making social life, family, and work scenarios trying, and arduous at times.
“When I was much younger, before the asthma hit, I used to go tobogganing with my children,” says Jennifer. “Then, I had grandkids come along and I couldn’t do that – but now I can. I got on this drug trial and now nothing stops me.”
The CALIMA trial was one of three pivotal trials to reduce severe exacerbation requiring prednisone and has shown a 50 per cent reduction in patients who had the active treatment in lieu of the placebo. Fasenra is the only respiratory biologic that provides direct, rapid and near-complete depletion of blood eosinophils from the first dose.
“So, the drugs make a big difference,” says Fitzgerald, director of the Centre for Heart and Lung Health at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. “We’ve already had an opportunity to use drugs in this class and we were involved in the other development programs as well. So, they represent an important treatment option for patients who have severe asthma.”
Dr. Mark Fitzgerald has had extensive training and has been invested in the development of asthma guidelines both nationally and internationally with a very busy practice.
Around the world, asthma affects 315 million people, including an estimated 3 million Canadians. Roughly 250,000 Canadians live with severe, uncontrolled asthma, which can have a debilitating impact on lung function and quality of life.
Many of the current medications also come with countless side effects, that may deter the people who need the medication from taking it at all. Prednisone, for example, has been known to affect sleeping patterns, weight gain, severe depression, bloody or tarry stools, slow wound healing, dizziness – just to name a few. Fasenra, on the other hand, has had minute reported adverse reactions and is taken every eight weeks after the initial three doses.
Dr. Mark Fitzgerald hopes that in the future there will be blood or sputum tests to better identify the treatment that will work for each individual. “I think we’re at a very exciting stage because, hopefully, these drugs will not only be used in patients with severe disease but also can be used earlier in the patient’s history of asthma to maybe modify the trajectory and prevent the progression to more severe disease,” Fitzgerald adds.
Fasenra has been approved by Health Canada and represents a significant milestone for severe eosinophilic asthma patients, finally offering a new treatment option to help manage their condition.
The change for Jennifer has been dramatic. Going from a place where walking in the heat, scents, and the constant fear of the inability to breathe depicted what she could and could not do with her life, to now swim, skate, kayak, and play with her grandkids – she has never looked back.