This educational article was written by Amgen in partnership with the Allergy & Asthma Network, an organization that helps people affected by asthma, allergies and related conditions through outreach, education, advocacy and research.
When most people think of asthma, they envision someone using a rescue inhaler when they feel out of breath, but for many people living with asthma, a rescue inhaler isn’t always enough. This is even more true for people who live with severe asthma.
Asthma is a complex spectrum of diseases, and severe asthma is not the same as the childhood asthma most people are familiar with. People with severe asthma may sometimes not first experience symptoms of illness until adulthood, and their conditions often require comprehensive management plans, including preventive medicines and lifestyle changes beyond the use of inhalers. That’s because, for people with severe asthma, something as simple as the scent of perfume in a department store could be enough to trigger an attack that requires a trip to the hospital.
People living with severe asthma may feel like their condition could remain uncontrolled for the rest of their lives, even with a management plan and taking steps to reduce risks. Imagine having to keep a rescue inhaler within arm’s reach 24 hours a day. Or making dramatic lifestyle changes to control your environment, such as not going outside when the temperature may be particularly warm or cold, taking extra precautions to avoid dust or pollen in your home, or even choosing vacation spots with hospitals nearby in case of unexpected exacerbations.
But treatment options for severe asthma exist, including medications called biologics that may help prevent some attacks for certain people living with severe asthma.
Biologics: Medicines made from living cells
Biologics are a type of medicine made from living cells, proteins such as antibody or gene therapies, many of which represent the cutting edge of medical innovation. Biologics can be powerful therapies because they can be targeted to specific actions in the body for the treatment of many different serious illnesses, including cancer, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases like asthma.
Amgen created one of the world’s first biologic medicines in the 1980s, and today the biotech company remains a leader in the innovation, development and manufacturing of biologics across a range of disease types. Understanding the fundamental biological mechanisms of disease is a defining feature of Amgen's discovery research efforts. Amgen scientists are committed to harnessing the power of the human body to combat the most serious illnesses people face.
Asthma is more than just “trouble breathing”
Asthma is a spectrum of chronic, long-term lung disease that is highly individualized, which means that every person living with asthma has their own unique experience that requires a custom treatment plan to manage their condition. Asthma is fundamentally a disease of inflammation, with a trigger such as an allergen, smoke, or a virus causing inflammation in the airways. But it doesn't stop there: When an outside trigger initiates inflammation, it creates a waterfall effect, in which the patient’s own body—the immune system, along with certain cells and chemical signals—creates a cascade of even more inflammation that constricts the airways, making it hard to breathe.
Because each person’s asthma is different, patients can have unique triggers, unique responses to them, and require a personalized mix of therapies to effectively control their condition. Asthma also disproportionally affects Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous Americans due to health disparities, including environmental and economic factors. Scientists are actively working to better understand the causes of asthma and how to better manage it in different patient populations.
How can biologics help with severe asthma?
Biologics for asthma are medicines normally given once or twice a month to help prevent symptoms, rather than treating the symptoms after they occur, and target the cells and pathways that lead to allergic inflammation and breathing problems with asthma.
Biologics can make a big difference for people living with severe asthma, but not every biologic is right for every patient. That’s why it’s so important for people with severe asthma, especially if their disease is uncontrolled, to work with their asthma or allergy specialist to decide which asthma management plan best fits their unique needs – and whether that management plan should include a biologic.
For more information, and suggested questions to ask your doctor at an upcoming appointment, check out the video, Ask the Allergist: Biologics for Severe Asthma, from the Allergy & Asthma Network.