Asthma Drug Treats Rare Skin Disorder

Omalizumab prevented symptoms of inducible urticaria.​

A new study shows that a repurposed asthma drug, omalizumab, could be used to treat a rare skin disorder. Inducible urticaria is a condition characterized by itchy wheals that, when exposed to various stimuli, such as cold or friction, can impact lifestyle and quality of life.

Patients with cold urticaria cannot be exposed to cold weather without risking an allergic reaction, and some may not be able to hold cold beverages. Patients with symptomatic dermographism can experience severe itching caused by friction, including the gentle friction caused by clothing.

These patients may require treatment with antihistamines or the antidepressant doxepin. However, these treatments may cause adverse events, so many patients typically avoid the allergen, which can be difficult during winter months for those with cold urticaria.

In the study, the authors discovered that the monoclonal antibody was able to treat patients with the 2 types of urticaria. Included in the study were 31 patients with cold urticaria and 61 patients with symptomatic demographism who were treated with omalizumab for 3 months.

The authors used an objective measurement approach to determine response thresholds for each patient. Initial responses were measured after the initial dose, with other measurements occurring every 4 weeks after the second administration. The final measurement was taken 2 weeks after the final dose, according to the study.

The authors discovered that treatment with omalizumab significantly improved symptoms among both groups of patients. Additionally, the drug was able to prevent symptoms in approximately 50% of patients with the skin disorder, even after exposure to the related stimuli, according to the study.

"Our results show that patients with severe forms of physical urticaria can benefit from treatment with omalizumab," said researcher Martin Metz, MD.

The drug is only approved for use in patients with asthma and traditional hives—known as chronic spontaneous urticaria—that are inadequately controlled by antihistamines, according to the study. Since the drug has already been approved for another indication, the regulatory process for gaining another indication will likely be expedited. It is not currently indicated to treat other forms of urticaria.

"However, given our data on the drug's effectiveness in patients with cold urticaria and symptomatic dermographism, we are hopeful that the drug will be made available to both of these patient groups," Dr Metz concluded.