Anti-IL-5 therapies for asthma

Farne, Hugo A and Wilson, Amanda and Milan, Stephen and Banchoff, Emma and Yang, Freda and Powell, Colin VE (2022) Anti-IL-5 therapies for asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 7 (7): CD010834. ISSN 1469-493X

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BACKGROUND: This is the second update of previously published reviews in the Cochrane Library (2015, first update 2017). Interleukin-5 (IL-5) is the main cytokine involved in the proliferation, maturation, activation and survival of eosinophils, which cause airway inflammation and are a classic feature of asthma. Studies of monoclonal antibodies targeting IL-5 or its receptor (IL-5R) suggest they reduce asthma exacerbations, improve health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and lung function in appropriately selected patients, justifying their inclusion in the latest guidelines. OBJECTIVES: To compare the effects of therapies targeting IL-5 signalling (anti-IL-5 or anti-IL-5Rα) with placebo on exacerbations, health-related quality-of-life (HRQoL) measures and lung function in adults and children with chronic asthma, and specifically in those with eosinophilic asthma refractory to existing treatments. SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and two trials registers, manufacturers' websites, and reference lists of included studies. The most recent search was 7 February 2022. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials comparing mepolizumab, reslizumab and benralizumab versus placebo in adults and children with asthma. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently extracted data and analysed outcomes using a random-effects model. We used standard methods expected by Cochrane. MAIN RESULTS: Seventeen studies on about 7600 participants met the inclusion criteria. Six used mepolizumab, five used reslizumab, and six used benralizumab. One study using benralizumab was terminated early due to sponsor decision and contributed no data. The studies were predominantly on people with severe eosinophilic asthma, which was similarly but variably defined. One was in children aged 6 to 17 years; nine others included children over 12 years but did not report results by age group separately. We deemed the overall risk of bias to be low, with all studies contributing data of robust methodology. We considered the certainty of the evidence for all comparisons to be high overall using the GRADE scheme, except for intravenous (IV) mepolizumab and subcutaneous (SC) reslizumab because these are not currently licensed delivery routes. The anti-IL-5 treatments assessed reduced rates of 'clinically significant' asthma exacerbation (defined by treatment with systemic corticosteroids for three days or more) by approximately half in participants with severe eosinophilic asthma on standard care (at least medium-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICS)) with poorly controlled disease (either two or more exacerbations in the preceding year or Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ) score of 1.5 or more), except for reslizumab SC. The rate ratios for these effects were 0.45 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.36 to 0.55; high-certainty evidence) for mepolizumab SC, 0.53 (95% CI 0.44 to 0.64; moderate-certainty evidence) for mepolizumab IV, 0.43 (95% CI 0.33 to 0.55; high-certainty evidence) for reslizumab IV, and 0.59 (95% CI 0.52 to 0.66; high-certainty evidence) for benralizumab SC. Non-eosinophilic participants treated with benralizumab also showed a significant reduction in exacerbation rates, an effect not seen with reslizumab IV, albeit in only one study. No data were available for non-eosinophilic participants treated with mepolizumab. There were improvements in validated HRQoL scores with all anti-IL-5 agents in severe eosinophilic asthma. This met the minimum clinically important difference (MCID) for the broader St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ; 4-point change) for benralizumab only, but the improvement in the ACQ and Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ), which focus on asthma symptoms, fell short of the MCID (0.5 point change for both ACQ and AQLQ) for all of the interventions. The evidence for an improvement in HRQoL scores in non-eosinophilic participants treated with benralizumab and reslizumab was weak, but the tests for subgroup difference were negative. All anti-IL-5 treatments produced small improvements in mean pre-bronchodilator forced expiratory flow in one second (FEV 1) of between 0.08 L and 0.15 L in eosinophilic participants, which may not be sufficient to be detected by patients. There were no excess serious adverse events with any anti-IL-5 treatment; in fact, there was a reduction in such events with benralizumab, likely arising from fewer asthma-related hospital admissions. There was no difference compared to placebo in adverse events leading to discontinuation with mepolizumab or reslizumab, but significantly more discontinued benralizumab than placebo, although the absolute numbers were small (42/2026 (2.1%) benralizumab versus 11/1227 (0.9%) placebo). The implications for efficacy or adverse events are unclear. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Overall this analysis supports the use of anti-IL-5 treatments as an adjunct to standard care in people with severe eosinophilic asthma and poor symptom control. These treatments roughly halve the rate of asthma exacerbations in this population. There is limited evidence for improved HRQoL scores and lung function, which may not meet clinically detectable levels. The studies did not report safety concerns for mepolizumab or reslizumab, or any excess serious adverse events with benralizumab, although there remains a question over adverse events significant enough to prompt discontinuation. Further research is needed on biomarkers for assessing treatment response, optimal duration and long-term effects of treatment, risk of relapse on withdrawal, non-eosinophilic patients, children (particularly under 12 years), comparing anti-IL-5 treatments to each other and, in patients meeting relevant eligibility criteria, to other biological (monoclonal antibody) therapies. For benralizumab, future studies should closely monitor rates of adverse events prompting discontinuation.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Additional Information:
This is the final published version of the following article: Farne HA, Wilson A, Milan S, Banchoff E, Yang F, Powell CVE. Anti‐IL‐5 therapies for asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2022, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD010834. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010834.pub4. which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
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14 Dec 2022 12:40
Last Modified:
20 Dec 2023 01:25