FDA warns patients about asthma drug risks

ROCKVILLE, Md. Drugs belonging to the class called long-acting beta agonists should never be used alone for treating asthma in patients and should be combined with other asthma drugs, according to a new warning by the Food and Drug Administration, which is requiring that pharmaceutical manufacturers add the warning to the drugs’ product labels.

The FDA conducted an analysis of clinical trials showing that use of the drugs can increase risk of severe worsening of asthma symptoms, requiring children and adults to be hospitalized and sometimes resulting in death. Instead, the agency said, the drugs should be used only in combination with asthma controller medications such as inhaled corticosteroids, and should only be used long term in patients whose asthma is not adequately controlled by asthma controller medications, but should otherwise be used for the short term.

The drugs used in the analysis, also known as LABAs, include GlaxoSmithKline’s Serevent (salmeterol xinofoate) and Foradil (formoterol fumarate), made by Novartis and Schering-Plough Corp. –– now part of Merck & Co. –– as well as combination LABA-inhaled corticosteroid drugs such as AstraZeneca’s Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol fumarate dihydrate) and GlaxoSmithKline’s Advair (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol).

“Although these medicines play an important role in helping some patients control asthma symptoms, our review of the available clinical trials determined that their use should be limited, whenever possible, due to an increased risk of asthma exacerbations, hospitalizations and death,” FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Division of Pulmonary and Allergy Products director Badrul Chowdhury said.