Eosinophils are a biomarker – this is a molecule, gene or characteristic by which a particular disease can be recognised. By understanding how biomarkers work – and the part they play in the body – scientists can identify ways of developing treatment approaches that are tailored to the specific needs of individual patients.
“Understanding the way that biology works differently in different people is at the heart of personalised treatment: it means that treatment can be targeted very specifically – helping us get the right treatment to the right patient,” Steve Yancey, Respiratory Medicines Development Leader, GSK
This recognition has led scientists to develop biologic medicines – produced by living cells, rather than a chemical process – which are thought to treat severe asthma by normalising levels of these white blood cells through targeting a particular protein. A simple blood test can help to identify patients who may be most likely to benefit from this precise approach.
As the understanding of asthma increases, scientists are looking at whether eosinophils can be used as a biomarker more broadly in asthma. They are also exploring if there are further biomarkers or identifiable characteristics known as ‘treatable traits’ that can help doctors adopt a more personalised approach to determining how best to help their patients.
Alongside eosinophil levels, there are many other features of asthma which seem to have an impact on how well a patient responds to different treatment approaches.
By looking at specific groups of asthma patients included in clinical trials, scientists are able to classify these ‘treatable traits’ giving them a better understanding of the disease features which may need to be addressed to improve outcomes for patients.
For example, some patients have limited airflow in their lungs meaning they may require medicines designed to open their airways, others have bacteria present and others cough. A patient’s weight may be a factor, as could be the level of resistance in their lungs.
All of these traits may be options for doctors to address to help minimise the impact of asthma on each individual patient. Instead of a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, it’s becoming more and more clear that different strategies are needed to establish good asthma control for as many patients as possible. And treatable traits may help doctors establish the most appropriate medicine for their patients, reducing the burden of their disease.
A precision-medicine future
For as long as patients are struggling with asthma, there is more for us to do.
Our understanding of this common but complex disease is evolving all the time. As we get better at unlocking its secrets, our hope is that treatable traits will help drive our medicines development, enabling a more personal approach and representing a big step forward for patients.