Drug could be a 'game-changer' for millions with chronic coughs

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Professor Surinder Birring, a respiratory medicine expert at King's College Hospital, hailed gefapixant as a'gamechanger' for chronic cough sufferers

Professor Surinder Birring, a respiratory medicine expert at King’s College Hospital, hailed gefapixant as a ‘gamechanger’ for chronic cough sufferers

A new drug could be a ‘gamechanger’ for millions of people around the world who cough constantly throughout the day, researchers claim.

British scientists have found gefapixant cuts coughing fits by 60 per cent, improves sufferers’ sleep and reduces chest pain.

The pill, taken twice a day, would be the first new cough treatment in 50 years, if it’s approved.

Gefapixant, made by Merck and sold under the brand name Lyfnua, has already been given the green light for use in Switzerland and Japan. 

But it has yet to be accepted by regulators in Britain or the US. 

Merck’s application for approval is still being examined by America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Watchdogs asked for more information on its effectiveness in January. 

MailOnline has approached the FDA’s UK equivalent, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), for an update on its status in Britain.

Researchers hope the latest trial results could pave the way to it being dished out in both countries.  

Professor Surinder Birring, a respiratory medicine expert at King’s College Hospital and one of the lead authors, hailed the drug as ‘good news’ for sufferers.

British scientists have found gefapixant cuts coughing fits by 60 per cent, improves sufferers' sleep and reduces chest pain

British scientists have found gefapixant cuts coughing fits by 60 per cent, improves sufferers’ sleep and reduces chest pain

Gefapixant has been approved and is already in use in Switzerland and Japan. It is made by Merck and sold under the name Lynfua for ¥203.20 (£1.24) per tablet in the east Asian country, under its subsidised national insurance system

Gefapixant has been approved and is already in use in Switzerland and Japan. It is made by Merck and sold under the name Lynfua for ¥203.20 (£1.24) per tablet in the east Asian country, under its subsidised national insurance system

WHAT IS GEFAPIXANT AND DOES IT WORK?

The drug, taken in pill form, works by blocking the throat nerve which triggers the cough reflex. 

Most people who have unexplained coughs are thought to have a hypersensitive cough nerve, meaning they hack and cough at the slightest irritation.

At the moment the only treatments are cough syrups, which ease the discomfort in the throat, or powerful painkillers such as codeine, which come with severe side effects. 

A trial published in the Lancet in March showed the drug reduces coughing in chronic cough sufferer’s by up to 60 per cent. 

Cough frequency was 18.5 per cent lower in those given a 45mg pill twice a day than the placebo group after 12 weeks and 14.6 per cent lower after 24 weeks.

He told The Guardian: ‘If gefapixant becomes available it could be a game-changer in respiratory medicine.

‘It’s a very effective treatment that works in most patients with chronic cough. It’s a major advance in the field of cough. 

‘There’s potentially thousands and thousands of patients who would be suitable to receive this treatment.’ 

Gefapixant is designed for treating a chronic cough, defined as one which lasts for more than eight weeks. 

Approximately 4 to 12 per cent of Britons and 5 per cent of Americans suffer from it, experts believe. 

It forces many sufferers to stay at home because they fear their bouts of coughing will annoy those around them. 

But the cough — usually a result of asthma, acid reflux or smoking — can also affect sleep and trigger headaches.

Gefapixant works by blocking the throat nerve which triggers the cough reflex.

Most people with unexplained coughs are thought to have a hypersensitive cough nerve, meaning they hack at the slightest irritation.

Current treatments, including paracetamol, ibuprofen and cough syrups, focus on reducing pain. Although, the NHS says they may ‘help you cough less’.

The last new treatment for coughs — dextromethorphan, which is used in products such as Benylin — was created 50 years ago.

The most recent gefapixant trial, published in medical journal The Lancet in March, saw more than 2,000 patients across 20 countries given the drug or a placebo.

All participants, aged 18 or over, had suffered with chronic cough for at least a year.

They were split into three groups given either a sugar, 15mg or 45mg pill twice a day for up to 52 weeks.

Results showed the trial participants given the highest dose coughed much less than patients taking a placebo.

Cough frequency was 18.5 per cent lower than the placebo group after 12 weeks and 14.6 per cent lower after 24 weeks.

The 15mg pill showed no significant difference to the placebo. 

Despite the success of the higher dose in treating coughs, recipients did experience some side effects.

The most common (16.2 per cent) was dysgeusia, a taste disorder which leaves food tasting more sour, bitter or metallic than it should.

But Professor Birring said most patients said it was ‘a price worth paying’ for their improved condition.

The charity Asthma + Lung UK hailed the new treatment, adding few drugs are developed for people with long-term respiratory problems because of a lack of Government funding.

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