FDA Announces New Safety Controls for Long-Acting Beta Agonists, Medications Used to Treat Asthma
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that drugs in the class of long-acting beta agonists (LABAs) should never be used alone in the treatment of asthma in children or adults. Manufacturers will be required to include this warning in the product labels of these drugs, along with taking other steps to reduce the overall use of these medications.
These new requirements are based on FDA analyses of clinical trials showing that use of these long-acting medicines is associated with an increased risk of severe worsening of asthma symptoms, leading to hospitalization in both children and adults and death in some patients with asthma. The drugs involved include the single agent products Serevent and Foradil and combination medications Advair and Symbicort that also contain inhaled corticosteroids. These medications improve a patient's ability to breathe freely and reduce the symptoms of asthma by relaxing muscles in the lung's airways.
The FDA will now require that the product labels reflect the following:
- The use of LABAs is contraindicated without the use of an asthma controller medication such as inhaled corticosteroid. Single-agent LABAs should only be used in combination with an asthma controller medication; they should not be used alone;
- LABAs should only be used long-term in patients whose asthma cannot be adequately controlled on asthma controller medications;
- LABAs should be used for the shortest duration of time required to achieve control of asthma symptoms and discontinued, if possible, once asthma control is achieved. Patients should then be maintained on an asthma controller medication.
- Pediatric and adolescent patients who require a LABA in addition to an inhaled corticosteroid should use a combination product containing both an inhaled corticosteroid and a LABA to ensure compliance with both medications.
"Although these medicines play an important role in helping some patients control asthma symptoms, our review of the available clinical trials determined that their use should be limited, whenever possible, due to an increased risk of asthma exacerbations, hospitalizations and death," said Badrul Chowdhury, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary and Allergy Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
"The risks of hospitalization and poor outcomes are of particular concern for children; parents need to know that their child with asthma should not be on a LABA alone," said Dianne Murphy, M.D., director of the FDA's Office of Pediatric Therapeutics.
LABAs are approved to treat both people with asthma or with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The new recommendations only apply to the use of LABAs in the treatment of asthma.
The FDA will be requiring the manufacturers of LABAs to conduct additional studies to further evaluate the safety of LABAs when used in combination with inhaled corticosteroids. The FDA will seek input on the design of these studies at a public advisory committee meeting in March 2010.
In addition to these actions, FDA will work with public and private partners under the agency's ongoing Safe Use Initiative to study LABA prescribing practices.
"We will collaborate with our Safe Use partners to evaluate whether prescribing patterns adjust to the new recommendations for this class of asthma drugs. If prescribing patterns don't adjust, we will determine the reasons and consider additional steps to support safe prescribing," said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
The Safe Use Initiative, launched in November, strives to reduce preventable harm by identifying specific, preventable medication risks and developing, implementing and evaluating cross-sector interventions with public and private partners who are committed to safe medication use.
Advair and Serevent are marketed by Collegeville, PA-based GlaxoSmithKline.
Foradil is marketed by Lebanon, PA-based Novartis AG.
Symbicort is marketed by Wilmington, DE-based AstraZeneca.
Long-Acting Beta Agonist (LABA) Information
Safe Use Initiative