Asthma is an incurable chronic condition affecting more than 300 million people worldwide. It swells and narrows airways, producing extra mucus, triggering coughing, wheezing, and ultimately making it difficult to breathe.

World Asthma Day is an international effort to raise awareness about asthma in order to improve asthma care throughout the world. Each year the Global Initiative for Asthma organizes a theme, but this year’s will continue the same focus on control since 2013, called: “You Can Control Your Asthma.”

Finding the correct combination of treatment therapies can be difficult, especially for those with more severe conditions who require steroids, which often carry with them unwanted side effects. If you’re one of the unfortunate five to 10 percent of patients, you may not even respond to treatment at all. Inhalers, oral medications, nebulizers, and allergy shots are all ways millions of asthmatics try to control an asthma attack — but what if researchers could discover how to stop it from starting?

A New Decade for Asthma

Researchers around the world are searching for the next best treatment and approach to coming one step closer to an asthma cure. The most recent breakthrough was discovering the calcium sensing receptor (CaSR) plays a role in asthma, which may eventually lead to a novel preventive treatment. Thanks to the collaborate efforts from researchers at King’s College London, Cardiff University in Wales, and the Mayo Clinic, medicine is one step closer to understanding the root cause of asthma. The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, outlines the effectiveness of how a specific class of drugs known as calcilytics target and manipulate the CaSR in mice.

“Our hypothesis was that this calcium receptor could play a key role in activating signals, and if we could interrupt those signals it could lead to a new treatment therapy,” respiratory cell physiology professor and the head of the physiology department at King’s College London Dr. Jeremy Ward, told Medical Daily. “That’s exactly what we found in the animal models.”

Calcilytics have been around for 15 years and were first developed as a treatment for osteoporosis. The patent has now been repurposed and could provide treatment to the five to 10 percent of asthmatic patients who don’t respond to current treatment options. As one of the inventors of the repurposing patent, Ward hopes the preclinical findings hold true to the human trials.

The main asthma therapies currently available haven’t changed in 10 to 15 years. Although there have been different combinations and slight tweaks to drugs, nothing that nuanced has made it onto the market. Researchers have designed the first human clinical trial using calcilytics for asthmatics, but they're waiting on funding before they move forward. If everything goes as planned, they could be seeing a new treatment option on the market in seven years, and optimistically, as early as five years.

“This is a completely new molecular target for asthma,” Ward said. “The problem is we really don’t know what causes it exactly. Our hope is to discover it. The point is we need to get to human clinical trials. It was a serendipitous finding and at the least will prove to be an important contributing factor of asthma.”

While Ward and his fellow researchers work towards a preventive treatment, Australian researchers at the University of Queensland are working to develop a new drug to safely treat the underlying cause. The new drug targets hematopoietic prostaglandin synthase (HPGD2S), an enzyme responsible for producing too much prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), which is linked to inflammation and allergies. They’ve already proven they can block PGD2 in animal trials and are ready to progress to human trials.

Rising Asthma Diagnoses

Asthma rates have been steadily climbing in recent decades. While asthma continues to lower quality of life and lead to detrimental economic losses, such as taking off from work, it still doesn’t receive adequate research and development funding, according to Ward. Compared to cardiovascular disease, it receives much less funding but is still hugely important, he says.

Recent findings from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology indicate less than one in 10 women saw an allergist in the last year, and because asthma is more common in women, they’re 60 percent more likely to wind up hospitalized. Unsurprisingly, those who do see an allergist wind up in the emergency room less frequently than those who don’t.

“If I asked my classes 30 years ago who was asthmatic, only a few hands would have been raised,” Ward said. “If I asked that now there would be 10 to 15 hands raised, and it’s not just because they’re being diagnosed at higher rates, but simply because there are more people living with asthma that need treatment.”