New COPD Treatments on the Horizon

COPD: New Treatments on the Horizon By Susan Bernstein
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD

New research may give doctors more tools to treat COPD, keep it from getting worse, or prevent it in people who are at risk, like smokers, says Albert Rizzo, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, DE.

In addition to inhaled medicines that help open inflamed lung airways so you can breathe better, a new class of drugs called phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors helps lower the numbers of severe flares, Rizzo says. Roflumilast (Daliresp) is the only drug in this class approved now for COPD. It has serious side effects like weight loss, diarrhea, and depression.

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Research in COPD treatments may offer more hope, he says. Inflammation causes lung passages to swell when you have this lung disease, making it hard to breathe. Biologic drugs may help doctors fight that inflammation better.

What’s in the Pipeline?

Scientists are at work on new treatments that stop the inflammation process at the cellular level. Drugs called p38 MAP kinase inhibitors may ease your inflamed airways, Rizzo says. 

Other drugs block proteins that trigger inflammation. More and more research indicates that some of these proteins, such as CXCR2, "play important roles in lung disease,” Rizzo says. Drugs called CXCR2 antagonists are now being tested in clinical trials, and they may one day relieve lung inflammation.

Other treatments in the works include:

Soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitors. They ease inflammation in animals that are exposed to tobacco smoke. Selective glucocorticoid receptor modulators. These help the steroids used now to treat COPD work better, and cause fewer unpleasant side effects. Stem cell therapy. This is “a growing area of interest and advance” in treating lung diseases, Rizzo says. One day, doctors may be able to implant healthy stem cells in lungs damaged by COPD so they can repair themselves.

Researchers are also studying things that may trigger the lung disease or its symptoms:

Certain genes that raise your chances of lung damage that can lead to COPD Bacteria or toxins in your body that play a role in the disease Anxiety -- what causes it and what’s the best way to treat it

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