Long-acting β2-agonists in Asthma: Enantioselective safety studies are needed

Glenn A. Jacobson, Sharanne Raidal, Morten Hostrup, Luigino Calzetta, Richard Wood-Baker, Mark O. Farber, Clive P. Page, E. Haydn Walters

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Long-acting β2-agonists (LABAs) such as formoterol and salmeterol are used for prolonged bronchodilatation in asthma, usually in combination with inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs). Unexplained paradoxical asthma exacerbations and deaths have been associated with LABAs, particularly when used without ICS. LABAs clearly demonstrate effective bronchodilatation and steroid-sparing activity, but long-term treatment can lead to tolerance of their bronchodilator effects. There are also concerns with regard to the effects of LABAs on bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), where long-term use is associated with increased BHR and loss of bronchoprotection. A complicating factor is that formoterol and salmeterol are both chiral compounds, usually administered as 50:50 racemic (rac-) mixtures of two enantiomers. The chiral nature of these compounds has been largely forgotten in the debate regarding LABA safety and effects on BHR, particularly that (S)-enantiomers of β2-agonists may be deleterious to asthma control. LABAs display enantioselective pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Biological plausibility of the deleterious effects of β2-agonists (S)-enantiomers is provided by in vitro and in vivo studies from the short-acting β2-agonist (SABA) salbutamol. Supportive clinical findings include the fact that patients in emergency departments who demonstrate a blunted response to salbutamol are more likely to benefit from (R)-salbutamol than rac-salbutamol, and resistance to salbutamol appears to be a contributory mechanism in rapid asthma deaths. More effort should therefore be applied to investigating potential enantiospecific effects of LABAs on safety, specifically bronchoprotection. Safety studies directly assessing the effects of LABA (S)-enantiomers on BHR are long overdue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-449
Number of pages9
JournalDrug Safety
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


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