Hopes of the first new cough treatment in 50 years as scientist invent pill that slashes symptoms


Hopes of the first new cough treatment in 50 years as scientist invent pill that slashes symptoms by two thirds

  • Doctors from University of Manchester trialled the new drug called gefapixant
  • Aided people with chronic cough – those who’ve had it for more than eight weeks
  • Twice daily pill reduced frequency of coughing by 67% in two separate trials

Hopes of the first new cough treatment in 50 years were raised yesterday after scientists showed they could slash symptoms with a twice-daily pill.

Doctors from the University of Manchester showed a new drug called gefapixant could cut coughing by two thirds.

The treatment was shown in two trials to significantly aid people with chronic cough – those who have been coughing for more than eight weeks.

At the moment there is no way of treating these patients, some of whom have had a persistent cough for years.

In time researchers hope the drug will also be made available for the millions of people who suffer with a common cough.

Study leader Professor Jacky Smith, who treats patients at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, said: ‘This drug has exciting prospects for patients who suffer from the often distressing condition of chronic cough.

Hopes of the first new cough treatment in 50 years were raised yesterday after scientists showed they could cut coughing by two thirds with a new drug called gefapixant

‘Effective treatments for cough are a significant unmet clinical need and no new therapies approved in over 50 years.

‘Billions of pounds are spent annually on over-the-counter cough and cold medicines despite a lack of evidence to support their efficacy, concerns about the potential for abuse and risk of harm in overdose.’

A trial of 253 patients, published in the respected Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal, showed a 50mg dose of the drug reduced the frequency of coughing by 67 per cent from before patients starting taking the pills.

HOW DOES GEFAPIXANT WORK?

The drug, taken in pill form, works by blocking the throat nerve which triggers the cough reflex. 

Most people who have unexplained coughs are thought to have a hypersensitive cough nerve, meaning they hack and cough at the slightest irritation.

At the moment the only treatments are cough syrups, which ease the discomfort in the throat, or powerful painkillers such as codeine, which come with severe side effects. 

A trial of 253 patients, published in the respected Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal, showed a 50mg dose of the drug reduced the frequency of coughing by 67 per cent from before patients starting taking the pills. 

The researchers were surprised to see that those who took a dummy ‘placebo’ pill also saw their cough incidence reduced by 30 per cent – meaning the drug was only 37 per cent better than placebo. 

A smaller trial, involving 57 patients, published in the European Respiratory Journal this week, showed as little as 30mg of the drug could be effective – much lower than previously thought. 

The researchers were surprised to see that those who took a dummy ‘placebo’ pill also saw their cough incidence reduced by 30 per cent – meaning the drug was only 37 per cent better than placebo.

But they said the findings still showed a significant impact – and hope two much bigger trials, with more than 1,800 participants in total, will confirm the power of the treatment.

Those trials, the initial results of which are due back by the end of the year, are needed before the drug can receive a medical licence.

A smaller trial, involving 57 patients, published in the European Respiratory Journal this week, showed as little as 30mg of the drug could be effective – much lower than previously thought.

The new drug works by blocking the throat nerve which triggers the cough reflex.

Most people who have unexplained coughs are thought to have a hypersensitive cough nerve, meaning they hack and cough at the slightest irritation.

If the trial proves successful among this group of hard-to-treat patients, doctors hope to move on to a wider group of people.

They need to make sure the drug’s mechanism works for different types of cough, but in time, they hope to make the drug available to people who suffer from the common cough, which is usually caused by a cold virus.

The treatment promises to be a godsend to the 10 per cent of the British population who suffer from chronic coughs.

But if it is made available for shorter-lasting common coughs as well, it will benefit millions more.

At the moment the only treatments are cough syrups, which ease the discomfort in the throat, or powerful painkillers such as codeine, which come with severe side effects.

The last new treatment for coughs – dextromethorphan, which is used in products such as Benylin – was created 50 years and only reduces cough frequency by 12 per cent.

The trial was funded by the research arm of the NHS and drug maker Afferent Pharmaceuticals – which is owned by pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Professor Smith said: ‘We can’t yet say when or if this drug will be available on prescription, however, if the phase three trial is successful then it would certainly be a major step towards everyday use.

‘Though it’s fair to say the drug is not a cure for chronic cough, it can and often does reduce the frequency of coughing substantially.

‘That could make a big difference to patients who often struggle with this condition which can make such a big impact on their lives.’ 

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