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'GPs could be giving asthma injections soon'

The first injection to prevent severe allergy-related asthma attacks could be given by GPs in the UK in two years, a GP respiratory expert has predicted.

The Department of Health has already sent the drug, omalizumab (Xolair), for appraisal by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence even though it has yet to be licensed in the UK.

The US regulatory body, the Food and Drug Administration, approved omalizumab earlier this month for adults and children aged 12 or older with moderate to severe allergy-related asthma inadequately controlled by inhaled steroids.

The injection costs between £6,000 and £7,000 per patient per year in the US but the price set by the Prescription Pricing Authority is likely to be significantly less.

Novartis, the company marketing the drug in Europe, said it was awaiting the completion of European trials before applying for a UK licence.

Omalizumab, a genetically engineered protein that blocks the immune response to allergens, is given via injection every two to four weeks.

Professor David Price, General Practice Airways Group professor of primary care respiratory medicine at the University of Aberdeen, who has been involved in the latest European clinical trials, said he would be 'very surprised' if the drug, also licensed in Australia, didn't get a UK licence: 'Realistically it will be mid-2005'.

Professor Price, a non-principal GP in Norfolk, predicted omalizumab would be given by GPs with a special interest in asthma or by practice nurses with an anaphylaxis protocol.

During clinical trials in the US, involving 1,000 patients, there were three anaphylaxis episodes.

Professor Price said trials to date had shown a large reduction in exacerbations. He said: 'It's likely to be expensive and used for patients with severe asthma.'

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