BACKGROUND: Long term administration of oral corticosteroids in patients with asthma may be associated with serious side effects. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including gold salts, have been shown to reduce the need for systemic corticosteroid treatment in uncontrolled studies. The effect of oral gold (auranofin) on asthma symptoms, lung function, and the need for oral prednisone treatment was investigated. METHODS: A 26 week randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, parallel group trial of auranofin was performed in 32 patients with moderately severe chronic asthma who required an oral corticosteroid dose of at least 5 mg prednisone a day (or equivalent) or 2.5 mg/day prednisone plus more than 800 micrograms/day inhaled corticosteroids. Auranofin was given orally in a dose of 3 mg twice daily. Asthma symptoms, lung function, and adverse effects were assessed at regular intervals. After 12 weeks of treatment prednisone dosage was tapered down by 2.5 mg every two weeks if the patient was clinically stable. Asthma exacerbations were treated with short courses of high doses of oral steroids. RESULTS: Twenty eight of the 32 patients, 13 in the placebo group and 15 in the auranofin group, completed the study. The total corticosteroid reduction achieved after 26 weeks of treatment was significantly greater (4 mg) in the auranofin group than in the placebo group (0.3 mg). The number of exacerbations requiring an increase of steroids was greater in the placebo group (2.1) than in the active group (0.9). A significant increase in FEV1 of 6.4% predicted occurred in the auranofin group during the study and there was a reduction of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and cough. There was no difference between the groups in peak flow measurements or in the number of asthma attacks. The incidence of side effects of auranofin was low, but exacerbations of constitutional eczema were noticeable. CONCLUSION: Auranofin provides an effective adjunct to treatment for steroid dependent asthma, leading to a reduction of oral steroid dose.
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