Researchers have made a potential breakthrough that could lead to better treatments becoming available for asthma patients.
A team at McMaster University and St Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton in Canada carried out a study involving more than 200 people with severe asthma, all of whom were using oral corticosteroids (prednisone) to manage their condition.
Current treatments for the respiratory condition typically include high doses of corticosteroids, but these are known to cause often serious side effects such as multi-organ toxicities and immunosuppression.
The study participants were given either an antibody called dupilumab or a placebo on top of their standard regimen of corticosteroids during the 24-week trial. The corticosteroid dose was gradually reduced during weeks four to 20 and then maintained at a low dose for the final four weeks.
It was found that the dupilumab significantly improved asthma symptoms and lung function by blocking two proteins that are associated with inflammation of the airways.
At the same time, the need for corticosteroids was reduced by as much as 70 per cent.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, lead study author Dr Parameswaran Nair said: "The ability of dupilumab to increase lung function as markedly as it did in this study, even in the face of [corticosteroid] withdrawal, indicates that it appears to be inhibiting key drivers of lung inflammation."
He added that the team's ultimate goal is to find new treatment pathways that circumvent the use of corticosteroids - and dupilumab may be useful for a wider range of patients than previously thought possible.
If further trials prove successful, it may be that people in pharmaceutical jobs are tasked with manufacturing a treatment made from dupilumab in the future.
The news comes after research by Asthma UK published at the start of this month showed that the rate of asthma deaths in this country was 2.21 per 100,000 people in 2015, up from 1.83 in 2011.
This was one of the worst rates in the whole of Europe, with only Estonia, Spain and Cyprus faring more poorly.
Around 5.4 million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma and it kills an average of three people each day.