Should recommendations about starting inhaled corticosteroid treatment for mild asthma be based on symptom frequency: a post-hoc efficacy analysis of the START study


Low-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are highly effective for reducing asthma exacerbations and mortality. Conventionally, ICS treatment is recommended for patients with symptoms on more than 2 days per week, but this criterion has scant evidence. We aimed to assess the validity of the previous symptom-based cutoff for starting ICS by establishing whether there was a differential response to budesonide versus placebo for severe asthma exacerbations, lung function, and asthma symptom control across subgroups identified by baseline asthma symptom frequency.


We did a post-hoc analysis of the 3 year inhaled Steroid Treatment As Regular Therapy (START) study, done in 32 countries, with clinic visits every 3 months. Patients (aged 4–66 years) with mild asthma diagnosed within the previous 2 years and no previous regular corticosteroids were randomised to receive once daily, inhaled budesonide 400 μg (those aged <11 years 200 μg) or placebo. Coprimary outcomes for this analysis were time to first severe asthma-related event (SARE; hospital admission, emergency treatment, or death) and change from baseline in lung function after bronchodilator. Interaction with baseline symptom frequency was investigated, with patients grouped by more than two symptom days per week and two or fewer symptom days per week (divided into no days to 1 day, and more than 1 day to 2 days). Analysis was done by intention to treat.


Of 7138 patients (n=3577 budesonide; n=3561 placebo), baseline symptom frequency was 0–1 days per week for 2184 (31%) participants, more than 1 and less than or equal to 2 symptom days per week for 1914 (27%) participants, and more than 2 symptom days per week for 3040 (43%) participants. For budesonide versus placebo, time to first SARE was longer across symptom frequency subgroups (hazard ratios 0·54 [95% CI 0·34–0·86] for 0–1 symptom days per week, 0·60 [0·39–0·93] for >1 to ≤2 symptom days per week, 0·57 [0·41–0·79] >2 symptom days per week, pinteraction=0·94), and the decline in postbronchodilator lung function was less at 3 years’ follow-up (pinteraction=0·32). For budesonide versus placebo, severe exacerbations requiring oral or systemic corticosteroids were reduced (rate ratio 0·48 [0·38–0·61] 0–1 symptom days per week, 0·56 [0·44–0·71] >1 to ≤2 symptom days per week, and 0·66 [0·55–0·80] >2 symptom days per week, pinteraction=0·11), prebronchodilator lung function was higher, and symptom-free days were more frequent (p<0·0001 for all three subgroups), with no interaction by symptom frequency (prebronchodilator pinteraction=0·43; symptom-free days pinteraction=0·53). Similar results were noted when participants were classified by any guidelines criterion as so-called persistent versus so-called intermittent asthma.


In mild recent-onset asthma, once daily, low-dose budesonide decreases SARE risk, reduces lung function decline, and improves symptom control similarly across all symptom subgroups. The results do not support restriction of inhaled corticosteroids to patients with symptoms on more than 2 days per week and suggest that treatment recommendations for mild asthma should consider both risk reduction and symptoms.



The Lancet, Volume 389, No. 10065, p157–166, 14 January 2017

Reevaluation of Diagnosis in Adults With Physician-Diagnosed Asthma

Key Points

Question  Can current asthma be ruled out and can asthma medications be safely stopped in some adult patients with physician-diagnosed asthma?

Findings  In this multicenter cohort study that enrolled 701 randomly selected adults with physician-diagnosed asthma, current asthma was excluded in 33% of the 613 participants who completed the study.

Meaning  Among some adult patients with physician-diagnosed asthma, reassessing that diagnosis may be warranted.


Importance  Although asthma is a chronic disease, the expected rate of spontaneous remissions of adult asthma and the stability of diagnosis are unknown.

Objective  To determine whether a diagnosis of current asthma could be ruled out and asthma medications safely stopped in randomly selected adults with physician-diagnosed asthma.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A prospective, multicenter cohort study was conducted in 10 Canadian cities from January 2012 to February 2016. Random digit dialing was used to recruit adult participants who reported a history of physician-diagnosed asthma established within the past 5 years. Participants using long-term oral steroids and participants unable to be tested using spirometry were excluded. Information from the diagnosing physician was obtained to determine how the diagnosis of asthma was originally made in the community. Of 1026 potential participants who fulfilled eligibility criteria during telephone screening, 701 (68.3%) agreed to enter into the study. All participants were assessed with home peak flow and symptom monitoring, spirometry, and serial bronchial challenge tests, and those participants using daily asthma medications had their medications gradually tapered off over 4 study visits. Participants in whom a diagnosis of current asthma was ultimately ruled out were followed up clinically with repeated bronchial challenge tests over 1 year.

Exposure  Physician-diagnosed asthma established within the past 5 years.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was the proportion of participants in whom a diagnosis of current asthma was ruled out, defined as participants who exhibited no evidence of acute worsening of asthma symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, or bronchial hyperresponsiveness after having all asthma medications tapered off and after a study pulmonologist established an alternative diagnosis. Secondary outcomes included the proportion with asthma ruled out after 12 months and the proportion who underwent an appropriate initial diagnostic workup for asthma in the community.

Results  Of 701 participants (mean [SD] age, 51 [16] years; 467 women [67%]), 613 completed the study and could be conclusively evaluated for a diagnosis of current asthma. Current asthma was ruled out in 203 of 613 study participants (33.1%; 95% CI, 29.4%-36.8%). Twelve participants (2.0%) were found to have serious cardiorespiratory conditions that had been previously misdiagnosed as asthma in the community. After an additional 12 months of follow-up, 181 participants (29.5%; 95% CI, 25.9%-33.1%) continued to exhibit no clinical or laboratory evidence of asthma. Participants in whom current asthma was ruled out, compared with those in whom it was confirmed, were less likely to have undergone testing for airflow limitation in the community at the time of initial diagnosis (43.8% vs 55.6%, respectively; absolute difference, 11.8%; 95% CI, 2.1%-21.5%).

Conclusions and Relevance  Among adults with physician-diagnosed asthma, a current diagnosis of asthma could not be established in 33.1% who were not using daily asthma medications or had medications weaned. In patients such as these, reassessing the asthma diagnosis may be warranted.

JAMA. 2017;317(3):269-279

Fish Oil–Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring


Reduced intake of n−3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) may be a contributing factor to the increasing prevalence of wheezing disorders. We assessed the effect of supplementation with n−3 LCPUFAs in pregnant women on the risk of persistent wheeze and asthma in their offspring.


We randomly assigned 736 pregnant women at 24 weeks of gestation to receive 2.4 g of n−3 LCPUFA (fish oil) or placebo (olive oil) per day. Their children formed the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood2010 (COPSAC2010) cohort and were followed prospectively with extensive clinical phenotyping. Neither the investigators nor the participants were aware of group assignments during follow-up for the first 3 years of the children’s lives, after which there was a 2-year follow-up period during which only the investigators were unaware of group assignments. The primary end point was persistent wheeze or asthma, and the secondary end points included lower respiratory tract infections, asthma exacerbations, eczema, and allergic sensitization.


A total of 695 children were included in the trial, and 95.5% completed the 3-year, double-blind follow-up period. The risk of persistent wheeze or asthma in the treatment group was 16.9%, versus 23.7% in the control group (hazard ratio, 0.69; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.49 to 0.97; P=0.035), corresponding to a relative reduction of 30.7%. Prespecified subgroup analyses suggested that the effect was strongest in the children of women whose blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid were in the lowest third of the trial population at randomization: 17.5% versus 34.1% (hazard ratio, 0.46; 95% CI, 0.25 to 0.83; P=0.011). Analyses of secondary end points showed that supplementation with n−3 LCPUFA was associated with a reduced risk of infections of the lower respiratory tract (31.7% vs. 39.1%; hazard ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.98; P=0.033), but there was no statistically significant association between supplementation and asthma exacerbations, eczema, or allergic sensitization.


Supplementation with n−3 LCPUFA in the third trimester of pregnancy reduced the absolute risk of persistent wheeze or asthma and infections of the lower respiratory tract in offspring by approximately 7 percentage points, or one third. (Funded by the Lundbeck Foundation and others; number, NCT00798226.)

Serious Asthma Events with Budesonide plus Formoterol vs. Budesonide Alone


Concerns remain about the safety of adding long-acting β2-agonists to inhaled glucocorticoids for the treatment of asthma. In a postmarketing safety study mandated by the Food and Drug Administration, we evaluated whether the addition of formoterol to budesonide maintenance therapy increased the risk of serious asthma-related events in patients with asthma.


In this multicenter, double-blind, 26-week study, we randomly assigned patients, 12 years of age or older, who had persistent asthma, were receiving daily asthma medication, and had had one to four asthma exacerbations in the previous year to receive budesonide–formoterol or budesonide alone. Patients with a history of life-threatening asthma were excluded. The primary end point was the first serious asthma-related event (a composite of adjudicated death, intubation, and hospitalization), as assessed in a time-to-event analysis. The noninferiority of budesonide–formoterol to budesonide was defined as an upper limit of the 95% confidence interval for the risk of the primary safety end point of less than 2.0. The primary efficacy end point was the first asthma exacerbation, as assessed in a time-to-event analysis.


A total of 11,693 patients underwent randomization, of whom 5846 were assigned to receive budesonide–formoterol and 5847 to receive budesonide. A serious asthma-related event occurred in 43 patients who were receiving budesonide–formoterol and in 40 patients who were receiving budesonide (hazard ratio, 1.07; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.70 to 1.65]); budesonide–formoterol was shown to be noninferior to budesonide alone. There were two asthma-related deaths, both in the budesonide–formoterol group; one of these patients had undergone an asthma-related intubation. The risk of an asthma exacerbation was 16.5% lower with budesonide–formoterol than with budesonide (hazard ratio, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.74 to 0.94; P=0.002).


Among adolescents and adults with predominantly moderate-to-severe asthma, treatment with budesonide–formoterol was associated with a lower risk of asthma exacerbations than budesonide and a similar risk of serious asthma-related events. (Funded by AstraZeneca; number, NCT01444430.)

Safety of Adding Salmeterol to Fluticasone Propionate in Children with Asthma

BACKGROUND Long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs) have been shown to increase the risk of asthma-related death among adults and the risk of asthma-related hospitalization among children. It is unknown whether the concomitant use of inhaled glucocorticoids with LABAs mitigates those risks. This trial prospectively evaluated the safety of the LABA salmeterol, added to fluticasone propionate, in a fixed-dose combination in children.

METHODS We randomly assigned, in a 1:1 ratio, children 4 to 11 years of age who required daily asthma medications and had a history of asthma exacerbations in the previous year to receive fluticasone propionate plus salmeterol or fluticasone alone for 26 weeks. The primary safety end point was the first serious asthma-related event (death, endotracheal intubation, or hospitalization), as assessed in a time-to-event analysis. The statistical design specified that noninferiority would be shown if the upper boundary of the 95% confidence interval of the hazard ratio for the primary safety end point was less than 2.675. The main efficacy end point was the first severe asthma exacerbation that led to treatment with systemic glucocorticoids, as assessed in a time-to-event analysis.

RESULTS Among the 6208 patients, 27 patients in the fluticasone–salmeterol group and 21 in the fluticasone-alone group had a serious asthma-related event (all were hospitalizations); the hazard ratio with fluticasone–salmeterol versus fluticasone alone was 1.28 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.73 to 2.27), which showed the noninferiority of fluticasone–salmeterol (P=0.006). A total of 265 patients (8.5%) in the fluticasone–salmeterol group and 309 (10.0%) in the fluticasone-alone group had a severe asthma exacerbation (hazard ratio, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.73 to 1.01).

CONCLUSIONS In this trial involving children with asthma, salmeterol in a fixed-dose combination with fluticasone was associated with the risk of a serious asthma-related event that was similar to the risk with fluticasone alone. (Funded by GlaxoSmithKline; VESTRI number, NCT01462344.)

N Engl J Med 2016; 375:840-849

Acetaminophen versus Ibuprofen in Young Children with Mild Persistent Asthma


Studies have suggested an association between frequent acetaminophen use and asthma-related complications among children, leading some physicians to recommend that acetaminophen be avoided in children with asthma; however, appropriately designed trials evaluating this association in children are lacking.

In a multicenter, prospective, randomized, double-blind, parallel-group trial, we enrolled 300 children (age range, 12 to 59 months) with mild persistent asthma and assigned them to receive either acetaminophen or ibuprofen when needed for the alleviation of fever or pain over the course of 48 weeks. The primary outcome was the number of asthma exacerbations that led to treatment with systemic glucocorticoids. Children in both groups received standardized asthma-controller therapies that were used in a simultaneous, factorially linked trial.

Participants received a median of 5.5 doses (interquartile range, 1.0 to 15.0) of trial medication; there was no significant between-group difference in the median number of doses received (P=0.47). The number of asthma exacerbations did not differ significantly between the two groups, with a mean of 0.81 per participant with acetaminophen and 0.87 per participant with ibuprofen over 46 weeks of follow-up (relative rate of asthma exacerbations in the acetaminophen group vs. the ibuprofen group, 0.94; 95% confidence interval, 0.69 to 1.28; P=0.67). In the acetaminophen group, 49% of participants had at least one asthma exacerbation and 21% had at least two, as compared with 47% and 24%, respectively, in the ibuprofen group. Similarly, no significant differences were detected between acetaminophen and ibuprofen with respect to the percentage of asthma-control days (85.8% and 86.8%, respectively; P=0.50), use of an albuterol rescue inhaler (2.8 and 3.0 inhalations per week, respectively; P=0.69), unscheduled health care utilization for asthma (0.75 and 0.76 episodes per participant, respectively; P=0.94), or adverse events.


Among young children with mild persistent asthma, as-needed use of acetaminophen was not shown to be associated with a higher incidence of asthma exacerbations or worse asthma control than was as-needed use of ibuprofen. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health; AVICA number, NCT01606319.)

Dupilumab efficacy and safety in adults with uncontrolled persistent asthma despite use of medium-to-high-dose inhaled corticosteroids plus a long-acting β2 agonist: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled pivotal phase 2b dose-ranging trial


Dupilumab, a fully human anti-interleukin-4 receptor α monoclonal antibody, inhibits interleukin-4 and interleukin-13 signalling, key drivers of type-2-mediated inflammation. Adults with uncontrolled persistent asthma who are receiving medium-to-high-dose inhaled corticosteroids plus a long-acting β2 agonist require additional treatment options as add-on therapy. We aimed to assess the efficacy and safety of dupilumab as add-on therapy in patients with uncontrolled persistent asthma on medium-to-high-dose inhaled corticosteroids plus a long-acting β2 agonist, irrespective of baseline eosinophil count.


We did this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, pivotal phase 2b clinical trial at 174 study sites across 16 countries or regions. Adults (aged ≥18 years) with an asthma diagnosis for 12 months or more based on the Global Initiative for Asthma 2009 Guidelines receiving treatment with medium-to-high-dose inhaled corticosteroids plus a long-acting β2 agonist were eligible for participation. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1:1:1:1) to receive subcutaneous dupilumab 200 mg or 300 mg every 2 weeks or every 4 weeks, or placebo, over a 24-week period. The primary endpoint was change from baseline at week 12 in forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1 in L) in patients with baseline blood eosinophil counts of at least 300 eosinophils per μL assessed in the intention-to-treat population. Safety outcomes were assessed in all patients that received at least one dose or part of a dose of study drug. This trial is registered at, numberNCT01854047, and with the EU Clinical Trials Register, EudraCT number 2013-000856-16.


769 patients (158 in the placebo group and 611 in the dupilumab groups) received at least one dose of study drug. In the subgroup with at least 300 eosinophils per μL, the greatest increases (200 mg every 2 weeks, p=0·0008; 300 mg every 2 weeks, p=0·0063) in FEV1 compared with placebo were observed at week 12 with doses every 2 weeks in the 300 mg group (mean change 0·39 L [SE 0·05]; mean difference 0·21 [95% CI 0·06–0·36; p=0·0063]) and in the 200 mg group (mean change 0·43 L [SE 0·05]; mean difference 0·26 [0·11–0·40; p=0·0008]) compared with placebo (0·18 L [SE 0·05]). Similar significant increases were observed in the overall population and in the fewer than 300 eosinophils per μL subgroup (overall population: 200 mg every 2 weeks, p<0·0001; 300 mg every 2 weeks, p<0·0001; <300 eosinophils per μL: 200 mg every 2 weeks, p=0·0034; 300 mg every 2 weeks, p=0·0086), and were maintained to week 24. Likewise, dupilumab every 2 weeks produced the greatest reductions in annualised rates of exacerbation in the overall population (70–70·5%), the subgroup with at least 300 eosinophils per μL (71·2–80·7%), and the subgroup with fewer than 300 eosinophils per μL (59·9–67·6%). The most common adverse events with dupilumab compared with placebo were upper respiratory tract infections (33–41% vs 35%) and injection-site reactions (13–26% vs 13%).


Dupilumab increased lung function and reduced severe exacerbations in patients with uncontrolled persistent asthma irrespective of baseline eosinophil count and had a favourable safety profile, and hence in addition to inhaled corticosteroids plus long-acting β2-agonist therapy could improve the lives of patients with uncontrolled persistent asthma compared with standard therapy alone.


Sanofi-Genzyme and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Lancet, Volume 388, No. 10039, p31–44, 2 July 2016