Will Boehringer's Spiriva challenge Serevent?

Boehringer Ingelheim and co-marketer Pfizer could make a bid to capture more of the respiratory drug market. In a new study, the company's Spiriva drug proved as effective as GlaxoSmithKline's Serevent in helping asthmatic adults breathe better. Spiriva is currently approved for COPD, or smoker's lung, so moving it into the asthma market could boost sales.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, isn't enough for Boehringer/Pfizer to seek approval for a new indication; the authors say long-term trials would be necessary to prove it's effective and safe. But the data is especially promising because Spiriva belongs to a different class of drugs, anticholinergics, and "having a new class of asthma medications could be potentially important," lead researcher Stephen Peters of Wake Forest University told HealthDay. "People are different. Some people will respond to some medications, some respond to others."

Doctors can use drugs off-label anytime they want, of course. And as the NEJM points out, GlaxoSmithKline appeared to feel threatened by this first trial--at least threatened enough to refuse to donate Serevent for the study, even though that meant U.S. taxpayers had to pay $1 million to buy it.

- read the HealthDay piece
- see the Boston Herald story