20/04/2012 11:05 BST

Scientists Hail Asthma Drug That 'Prevents Life-Threatening Symptoms'

British scientists are in the midst of developing an anti-viral drug that could protect sufferers from life-threatening symptoms.

Researchers from the University of Southampton and respiratory drug development company Synairgen believe an anti-viral drug called SNG001 could lead to a cure.

The SNG001 drug is designed to protect asthmatics from respiratory virus infections (such as the common cold) that can spread to the lung, which are a major cause of worsening asthma symptoms. It is estimated that viral infection is associated with up to eight out of 10 asthma-related emergency department visits.

The drug was recently tested on 134 adult asthma sufferers with mild to severe symptoms. Researchers discovered that the SNG001 prevented two out of three asthmatics developing worse symptoms after catching a cold, when compared to a placebo drug.

They also discovered a 65% reduction in asthma symptoms, causing a significant number of sufferers to reduce the amount of times they inhaled a bronchodilator (an inhaler that increases airflow to the lungs) as a result of the drug.

Scientists are hoping to create a commercial version of this drug - bringing fresh hope to the 5.4m asthma sufferers in the UK.

"This is a really promising breakthrough for the future treatment of asthma and one of the most exciting developments that I have seen in years,” professor Stephen Holgate, founder of Synairgen, said in a statement.

“This is the first clinical study which appears to demonstrate that, by boosting the antiviral defences of the lungs of asthmatics rather than trying to inhibit rapidly evolving viruses, we can limit the adverse effects of viral infection significantly to prevent worsening of asthma symptoms in a high risk group of patients.”

Leanne Metcalf, assistant director of research at Asthma UK, added:

"This has the potential to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in asthma treatments in the past 20 years.

“We are incredibly excited by the possibilities this research could bring to reduce hospital admissions and deaths as a result of asthma attacks.

"Over 80% of asthma attacks are triggered by cold and flu viruses, and until now we haven't had any effective treatments that can stop this from happening. This clinical trial demonstrates the potential of this anti-viral drug to prevent asthma attacks for thousands of people with severe asthma.

“We are incredibly proud to have played a part in the realisation of this research programme which should benefit people with asthma in a really significant way."

If you're worried about asthma, take a look at Asthma UK's guide to the condition.