We need to stop Mepolizumab

Under a month ago I was writing about how I had been a year on mepolizumab. The drug that I thought was going to be my wonder drug and make my asthma easy to control or so I thought. You can read the post here.

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Part of me wonders did I know deep down that I would be stopping this treatment? I know in my last clinic I had asked my consultant if he thought I was benefiting from getting the drug. He outlined why he thought it was worth staying on it so we agreed I would stay on.

In just a few short weeks after that clinic and chat the words came out my consultants mouth that I didnt want to hear. He said “we are going to stop the mepolizumab treatment because I was not getting the results he wants and while on it I have had some of my most severe attacks”. He felt he could not justify me staying on it as I was still struggling so much and my attacks were getting worse again. He is also concerned about all the other issues I am having with my body which he cant say are due to the mepolizumab but equally he cant say they are not. He is worried about the unknown side effects from the drug due to it being so new.

To say I am gutted is an under statement. It was meant to be my wonder drug. It wasn’t as much as I try to convince myself it was working I cant be sure. It did reduce my eosinophil count which is the only result we can see conclusively that changed once starting it. Otherwise the things like recovering from attacks and bouncing back from colds quicker I cant say are due to the mepolizumab or if they are due to not working in the hospital. I cant say either way. I wish I could say it was due to the mepolizumab but I cant.

So what now??

This was the first question I asked my consultant as once again I feel like I am in a constant state of limbo, reliant on oral corticosteroids which have the be reduced but any reduction exacerbates my asthma again so I will be searching for that drug which can offer me stability. If only prednisolone did not have such awful side effects and you could stay on them with no worries- that would be magic!!

The good news is that there are new biologic treatments out there. There is Fasenra (benralizumab) which I doubt I will be eligible for. I am excited about the results people have been getting from Dupixent (dupilumab). In the UK dupixent is currently only allowed to be used in patients with skin conditions but over in the States there has been a lot of success for people with aspirin sensitive asthma. I hope that perhaps dupixent might be approved for use in asthma because I think the main issue which makes asthma control so hard to achieve is being anaphylactic to salicylic acid- a compound of aspirin which naturally occurs in just about everything.

Until then I just need to sit tight, do the best I can to keep my body as healthy as possible, minimising the risk of attacks and focus on getting better and have a positive mental attitude.

A year on monoclonal antibody treatment

I can’t believe it is a year since I started on mepolizumab (mepo) a monoclonal anti body treatment to suppress my eosinophils in a bid to help my asthma. The big question is as it helped?

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I am not sure. My consultant seems to think it has and I am to continue on it. My eosinophils have dropped dramatically however I am still on the same maintenance prednisolone dose and we have not been able to reduce it down and I am no longer working just now. I was in clinic last month speaking to my consultant as I was having second thoughts about staying on mepolizumab because I cant see a huge amount of improvement but he feels it is worth staying on it and I have been approved to stay on it for the following reasons:

  1. My blood eosinophil count has come down (I’m not sure of the exact figure just now but we are checking again next month)
  2. My peak flow although overall it is lower than it was the variation in peak flow readings is no longer there and it is a lot more consistent- I cant complain about this as now I know where I am each day compared with before where the diurnal variation was huge.
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  3. Although I have had a near fatal attack and several others requiring hospital I have been able to recover from them a lot quicker than before. My consultant described some of my attacks as spectacular (Im not sure how I feel about that).
  4. Chest infections and colds have not quite taken the hold that they were before and again recovering has been a lot quicker.
  5. My quality of life is better (although for me I am still really struggling with the idea of not being at work doing the job I love).

Looking at the reasons my consultant listed I really cannot complain and can see that the mepo has had an impact. It has not had the wonder drug impact that I hoped for and that I have read many have had but I am alive and have a great team behind me so really need to be thankful.

I did some work a good number of years ago for Astra Zeneca where I met some other asthma patients. One young lady I met had their life totally transformed by Xolair going form being intubated numbers times, not being able to work and very disabled by their asthma to having a full time job and minimal asthma issues. I think deep down part of me was desperate to have this effect. I remember thinking after I was told I would start mepo that I might be able to get back to the gym, start running again and playing lacrosse and golf but that has not been the case which is a bit disappointing for me but I was told not to get my hopes up too much.

Even though the mepo has not been the wonder drug that was going to transform my life I am so grateful to my consultant for being willing to try it and keeping me on it. Apart for the hopes of it transforming my life I was worried about the side effects it might have. On the whole I have really not had any significant side effects. I have been finding I get a bit of a local reaction for about 48-72 hours post injection where the skin is red and hot. Initially when I first started getting the injection I did get a really bad headache, backache and just a general feeling of being unwell. After about the 3rd injection this went away. I have found that if I am a bit under the weather in the days leading up to getting the mepo then I tend to get more side effects in terms of headache etc but nothing that has been so bad it is not worth getting the injection especially as I am not having to get up and work set hours etc.

I have come across different stories on social media about peoples experience of biologics but one thing I have found is the number of people weighing up the travel for these treatments. When you asthma gets to the severe end of the spectrum most are referred on to a tertiary centre where their care is managed and their local hospital is there as a support team but do not take the overall control of your management. There are not many tertiary centres so there is often a lot of travel involved. I am lucky that Id not have a huge distance to travel but I think even if I did I wouldn’t mind because I know the team are doing it in my best interests and the least I can do is travel although it may be more difficult when you factor in that you do have severe asthma which is already controlling your life but if there is a chance that this is going to help then the travel is worth it!!

Another discussion I had with my consultant was about new biologics that are coming out. He is hopeful that dupilumab may have its use altered and some asthmatics may qualify for it. Just now it is only used in adult eczema in the UK but in the States there have been people on it who have aspirin sensitive asthma which is what I have except that I am anaphylactic to aspirin and salicylic acid so fingers crossed this gets a green light at some point as we both think this might work well for me.

The use of these monoclonal anti body drugs is dependent on such specific criteria and the patient needs to meet them and the consultant needs to be able to provide evidence for it before you get the green light. Because of this many are not getting the opportunity to try it and see if it has an effect.

For me I did not match the criteria for blood eosinophils but my consultant was able to argue the case. He was able to show that the prednisolone I am on will be surpassing eosinophil production and if i was not on it then my count would be elevated but it is too dangerous to take me off them or down a significant amount just to get the blood result. I would say it is worth asking your consultant to see if there is potentially a way to justify why you need to try this treatment and then be approved for it. It is so frustrating that a drug you are trying to get off is the main factor to many not meeting the criteria, but if you came off it then it is so dangerous as your asthma can go so out of control without it. I can see why they have strict criteria because the drugs are really expensive as they are such targeted drugs but in time they will drop in price and hopefully the criteria for the drugs will also be more flexible too.

Overall I am glad I have had the chance to try mepolizumab and being able to stay on it. If I had not changed consultants I doubt I would even be considered for it which is a scary prospect as I have no idea where I would be with my health.

If anyone has questions about monoclonal antibody treatment please ask!!

SMC approves Benralizumab (Fasenra)

Today was a big day for many Scottish people living with severe asthma. Many of us live day to day taking medications that do not fully help relieve our asthma symptoms and keep our asthma under control. It can be very frustrating and scary to live day to day not knowing how you will be.

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In the UK medication approval is not universal. England and Scotland have different groups which approve or reject medications which could become part of the NHS formulary making it available to patients.

England have NICE- the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. NICE approved Fasenra earlier this year meaning it was available to patients who fit the criteria for it. However in Scotland we had a longer wait meaning many with severe asthma have been able to see the positive effects this drug has had on people in England knowing that they are not guaranteed it because the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has to approve it. The last monoclonal antibody Reslizumab was approved by NICE but rejected by the SMC so many were waiting with baited breath today to see what the SMC would do.

It was a huge relief today when I got a phonemail from Asthma UK to say it has been approved. This means there is one more drug out there for those with severe asthma to try and hope that it will be their wonder drug. The weird thing with monoclonal antibody treatments (aka the mabs) is that they work for some and not for others. Just because you qualify for them through your IgE or eosinophil count does not mean that it will make a difference. This leaves many feeling lost and wondering if there will ever be a break for them from living with daily symptoms struggling to breath something no one should ever have to do.

The below is part of the press release from Asthma UK which I contributed to about the impact that severe asthma has had only life and what the approval by the SMC means:

“My severe asthma leaves me gasping for breath, exhausted and unable to even walk down the road. While I’ve had asthma all my life, it worsened as I got older. I had no choice but to take long-term oral steroids at a high dose which has left me with terrible side effects including osteoporosis. I used to be sporty and had my dream job as a nurse but my asthma got so bad I had to give it up. This new drug could transform my life allowing me to get back into work and regain my independence. It’s high time that severe asthma was taken seriously and that everyone who needs this kind of drug is able to get it.”

I was also interviewed for the radio which went out across Global Radio Networks this evening which was also focused on living with severe asthma, the effects medications to date have had on me and what Fasenra could mean for me and many others like me.

I am really proud to have been able to share my story but also that there is light at the end of the tunnel for others. It finally feels like severe asthma is being recognised. It seems that asthma only makes the headlines when a young person dies from an attack which is catastrophic but asthma should not be in the headlines for this, this should not even be occurring but it is. Despite this asthma is not being recognised. Hopefully there will be enough coverage about the approval of Fasenra in Scotland and how many people it may benefit from it that asthma may get taken more seriously and there will be more funding available to help those with severe asthma whose lives are being dictated by a condition that is so misunderstood despite their own and their medical teams best efforts to control it.

For me I had hoped mepolizumab would be my wonder drug. I still hope that it will be but I am not sure. I am still reliant on oral steroids and not able to reduce my maintenance dose, I have had to give up work, have also recently decided to step back from some of my lacrosse commitments all because of my asthma. My best efforts to control it are not enough but there are limited medications available to me that I have not tried which could help me. With each new drug that is approved there is that little bit more hope that one day my asthma will no longer dictate my life and just be a part of my life that does not cause me any problems.

It’s ok to not be ok.

This past week has been really tough. Asthma is one of those conditions that is on a spectrum. Going from those with the mildest of asthma to those with the most severe and life threatening asthma you get everyone across the board and you can not pick out the one person with mild and the one person with severe asthma. You can’t see asthma, sometimes you can hear it depending on how wheezy you are!!!

Recovery from this last hiccup has taken a lot longer than I ever anticipated. It was not the worst of attacks but equally was not the mildest either. I was only in hospital for a week yet it has taken me a good 3 weeks to get back on my feet and still Im not there yet.

I have been so fortunate this time to have the support of my consultant. When I say support I mean that should I have issues he has said so many times that I just need to call his secretary and she will get him to call me back or the resp reg on call to give me a call. Having that support is so reassuring to me it makes life that little bit easier. Also being seen in clinic every month (which is a faff but won’t be forever) and then on top of that I am at the ward once a month too for my mepolizumab injection with the asthma nurse specialists so if I have any issues I can ask them too.

As much support as there is they cannot speed up the recovery process and help with the everyday symptoms that just take time. The never ending fatigue that no matter how much you rest it just doesn’t go away (Thanks to prednisolone contributing to that), and no it doesn’t help by getting a good night sleep. It is a fatigue that is unlike no other- a fatigue that having a nap won’t fix, it is a feeling where your whole body feels double its weight, you are not tired and sleeping doesn’t help, but you just cant do anything. Until you have experienced it (which I hope you won’t) you have no idea what it is like. This is the really hard bit. Fatigue you cant see, and asthma you cant see.

Keeping your mind motivated is really hard when your body is preventing you from doing what you love. This is the challenge I keep facing. This time of year its all about Christmas, Christmas Parties, going out with friends, shopping and enjoying the festive period, but I feel like I am sitting watching the world go by and seeing photos of people enjoying themselves but I haven’t been able to join them. Just going to the shops to get the messages is hard enough leaving me exhausted.

One big thing that I am really finding hard and one friend who is also on biologic therapy said this can be a side effect is speed of recovery as well as joint and muscle weakness. Speed of recovery has been slow but as I keep trying to tell myself slow and steady wins the race- but truthfully its getting really wearing now. The other thing is the joint and muscles weakness. I always have some weakness after being in hospital as for most of it I am bed bound and not able to get up due to the inability to breath and also the number of IV lines I have which are often in my feet making walking a challenge. Building up slowly isn’t helping. The only way I can describe it is having DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) but having DOMS that won’t go away. Normally lasting 48 hours this has been 2 weeks now and my quads feel like they are ripping in half every time I go to sit down or stand up, occasionally jerking as I walk too, stairs are an interesting experience- thankfully I have a lift in my building so can avoid the stairs!!!

I am desperate to get back to work and my consultant knows this. I see him tomorrow to hopefully get the ok. I know it will be tough going back to work but I need something to mentally challenge me. I having been doing bits and pieces of research and evaluation of research conferences too. Evaluation forms I find are so hit or miss especially when there has been positive or negative things that you want to acknowledge etc- there is never the room and I end up putting a covering letter along with the form.

This whole recovery process and hospital admission this time has taught me a lot. The main thing I guess I have finally accepted is that it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to ask for help and admit when you are defeated. Over the years I have been made to see a psychologist to help me deal with life with severe asthma. You could say I was a bit resistant to it initially. I think it was the stigma I associated with it. I felt that if I was seeing a psychologist then something was wrong with me mentally and actually my problems were psychological rather than physical. I think I made this assumption because I was young (this was over 12 years ago) and at the time there was really not much openness about mental health and it really was stigmatised. In more recent years as my asthma has impacted my life in ways I never thought it would and prevented me doing more than I ever thought I have been so thankfully to have access to a psychologist  who I can see regularly and help deal with the restrictive aspects of living with such severe asthma. What I have found though is that I have focused so much on adapting life to cope with my asthma and the majority has been on pacing. I didn’t realise that a major area which we never worked on or spoke about was the severe life threatening attack that comes out the blue much like this last one was, and also the trauma after it. It has almost felt like a mild version of post traumatic stress because even at clinic last week I got this huge sense of fear when I saw those windows of the ICU again.

So tomorrow I have a variety of different appointments all at different hospitals. The morning I have the asthma nurse specialists for my mepolizumab injection and review with my consultant, then the eye pavilion to have tests done on my eye that has lost its peripheral vision and then over to the royal infirmary to see the psychologist and will go up to see work and discuss coming back.

I hope that getting back to work and routine will maybe improve the fatigue I have and give me a purpose to my day again.

The Verdict!!

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I have been fairly quiet recently mainly because I was terrified. I have had 3 doses of Mepolizumab and was due to attend clinic and see my consultant for the verdict and find out if I am staying on it or not.

The good news is that I am staying on it for now.

Clinic went well. I am so glad that I had that horrific hospital admission that made me decide to change consultant because it has been the best thing I have ever done. It has come with some issues but overall it has been one of the best things I have done.

I had lung function and FeNo both of which were marginally better but what I have noticed is that I am more stable overall. Recording my peak flow has been super helpful and I can identify what causes were when they dropped whereas before I had no idea and it was all over the place. I would love my peak flow to increase but I am happy for stability over gains (gains are unlikely due to the fibrosis in my lungs now).

The other difference this consultant has decided on is with regard to my steroids. Previously it has been a rush to get me down to the lowest dose possible and see how I go but that has always ended up badly and I spend more time on higher doses and it felt like I was on a rollercoaster all the time. Now, as much as we want to get me down to a reasonable dose and hopefully off prednisolone (wish me luck) we are acknowledging what has happened in the past and he kept me on 20mg which felt like ages (3 months) and then alternating 20mg and 15mg daily (2 months) and now I am to stay on 15mg until February March time and then we will readdress reducing it further.

So many people have asked me if I think the mepolizumab is helping. It is so hard to stay. I think it must be as I have been more stable but I worry that this is due to the prolonged prednisolone and super slow reduction but what I am hoping that it is a combination of both. I guess the time to tell what is doing what is if I get unwell (touch wood I don’t) and I can see how quickly I can respond to treatment and not need invasive treatment. I am aiming for this as know hospital is going to happen as my consultant has said this. He said he would have no worries about admitting me to hospital if either he or myself thought my asthma was not great.

We are also changing one of my inhalers. For the first time in as long as I can remember I had an outpatient clinic where my medications were reviewed and we looked at what I needed to keep taking and what could get binned. The only change he wants to make just now is removing the seretide inhaler and replacing it with Relvar a newer once daily preventer inhaler. He wants me to continue taking some extra fluticasone at night to tide me over as I still have quite significant dips in my breathing at night.

Im happy I now have a plan. Know roughly what is happening with my asthma and asthma care. Over the winter period I will be seen every 2 weeks. Monthly clinics with my consultant and then in-between I will be up with the asthma nurse specialists getting my injection and review there. Also should there be an issue I just have to call in.

The one thing out of all of this which I cannot let go of is why did it take throwing my toys out the pram and move consultants to be able to get in control of my asthma or have a plan to get control of it. I just want answers and I know I won’t get them but I am now trying the treatments I have been asking about for a good number of years. I know dwelling on it won’t help but when its your life that has been suffering it is hard.

2nd dose of Mepolizumab in the bag

Thats the second dose of mepolizumab done and dusted. Now to wait till next month for my next injection next month.

So many people have been asking me how I feel and if the new drug is helping or making a difference, or ask me when I will start noticing the benefits. Its really hard to tell. I am feeling some positive effects from it I think and there have been a few side effects but nothing major.

The most telling sign is that I have noticed my peak flow has been increasing and I have not been in my red zone since the 19th September. That is a full 10 days. It may not seem like a great achievement and many will not agree with me for being excited that I have gone ten days and not dropped my peak flow but the nature of my asthma has meant that my peak flow is all over the place and so has my control been. I must say my asthma control has not been poor through my own choice and I have tried desperately hard to keep it n control. I have not managed to get into my green zone since June but I am happy with that. Better to be stable and sitting in my amber zone stable than jumping up and down with readings all over the place. I think slow and steady is the way to improve….it has after all only taken 14 plus years to get to this point.

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Other than looking at peak flow results and keeping track of how much salbutamol (both nebuliser and inhaler) I am using how do I actually feel? DoI feel different?? It is hard to say. My prednisolone dose has not been reduced and has been kept at the same dose since I was discharged from hospital in April. I am finding it hard to identify if feeling well and pretty stable is because of the steroids or due to the introduction of the mepolizumab. Once I have my 3rd injection I am hoping my consultant sticks with his plan and we can start the slow process of reducing the prednisolone. I am aware I won’t get off it (or may get off it and converted to hydrocortisone due to adrenal failure) but lower will suit me just fine.

Since starting the mepo I have not been to bad with side effects. After the first I had a bad headache the first time but the second dose was not as bad. A bit of a sore head but nothing to major. The one thing I have noticed and I am not sure if it is coincidence or what but I have been waking up in the morning feeling like I am drowning or choking on the amount of phlegm I have on my chest. I have always had a bit of a productive chest- it goes with the territory of having lung disease but this is different. I am still not sleeping super well but I am wondering if that because I am sleeping slightly better and not waking up so much the phlegm is building up rather than me waking having a cough moving all the stuff and then settling back down. I guess the good thing is that all the movement of phlegm means I (fingers crossed) won’t be as susceptible to a chest infection and may notice them quicker as everything is moving so will see the colour changes. Although this is good that I am moving stuff in my chest I find in the morning I am having to do more saline nebulisers and a lot of physio to move it and it has often made me sick because of it. This is a minor price to pay though in terms of side effects.

With this medication as I have said before I won’t see improvements over night but will over time and I think I am starting to see them. The other thing I have noticed and finding it more and more is that people are telling me how well I look and don’t sound as bad which is probably the best part. The past 3 weekends have been jam packed full of different things- mainly lacrosse and by the end of each weekend I have been on my knees longing for my bed but I have managed them. I have managed to spend these weekends on the side lines of a lacrosse field, or in the middle of a lacrosse field coaching  with either Edinburgh Uni or Scotland (Scotland is just goalkeepers and assistant manager). A lie in over a weekend would be lovely and in the past weekends have been all about recovering and getting myself prepared for the next week of work but I have been able to use these weekends to do what I love and not suffer at work. Don’t get me wrong it was so hard to get up on Monday but I think most people find it hard to get up on a Monday morning for work so being what I called “normal” person tired is awesome.

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One thing I am very thankful for is having people around me who can keep me grounded and don’t let me get ahead of myself. I have always been someone who will try and do the long distance run before I can jog let alone walk so even though I may get grumpy at people holding me back I do appreciate it. Coach Dave at Scotland Lacrosse knows when to reign me in and make sure I just take it easy and ensures I just walk or rest when I perhaps am going full steam.

I have an excitement in my life just now something that I have not had in a long time. I look forward to being able to plan things in advance and not worry that I may need to cancel or not be well enough to attend. I am aware that there will still be times when my lungs just stop me from doing what I want but through this I have also learnt to appreciate life, not take it for granted and just live for the moment.

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New drugs, new start?

I haven’t written in ages and I apologise for that but I really did not know what to write and how to write without getting myself angry and upset as I feel the last 8 years have just been a total waste.

I wrote a while back about changing consultant and hospital because I was really finding the relationship I previously had with my consultant was no more and my health was getting worse, I was getting put on more and more drugs and constantly riding a rollercoaster of feeling well and being on high dose steroids to feeling rubbish because my steroids were reduced.

So lots has happened since switching consultant. My first appointment I finally felt someone was going to do something to help. I was put forward by my consultant at their MDT meeting to see if another consultant would agree to me being a candidate for mepolizumab. Due to the cost of the drug you need meet certain criteria and have a second consultant agree to it. Thankfully another consultant agreed and the wheels were in motion for me to start.

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I didnt really know what to expect. Its not like other drugs you get by injection like any sickness or steroids where you notice a difference pretty quickly. This one it can take a few weeks before you notice positive effects from it but Im not sure what I will feel and what the positive effects will be. Will it be the nights are better and I won’t wake up so much needing meds or will my peak flow be increased or able to do more during the day with less symptoms??

Time will tell how it goes. For me because of the steroids I am on they are going to use my maintenance dose of steroid a marker for effect of the mepolizumab so if I can reduce this then we can move forward and continue on the mepolizumab but if I cant reduce them without my chest getting worse then I won’t stay on it and will be back to square one and trying to find something else to help me.

Speaking to the nurse they seem to have had really positive effects and not many people have had to stop. Also the side effects have not been too bad apparently. A bit of a headache and back pain seem to be the most common. My head has been killing me but it is easing off and if that is the only side effect I cant really complain because a headache is the least of my worries as the pain and suffering from my chest over all these years far out weighs a sore head!!!

There is deep seated feeling of anger in me which I need to get over but I just cant shake this feeling of having wasted my time with my old consultant. Everyone told me she was the best but I guess the best is not always what works and it really didn’t for me. I asked so often to try different things anything to try and get some stability even asked to stay on the higher dose of steroid as I knew this was what my lungs were happy with but it was always a no and just had to persevere and would get there. Clearly that didnt work as every attack I ended up in ICU or HDU and so much time off work. If it was not for understanding bosses I would be out a job and have no purpose or aim to try and get myself well. I am really angry that it took a horrible admission to hospital and me essentially getting so upset that I was getting no where and people asking me if I had tried x,y and z and all I could say was no and they look quizzically at me like I am mad because my asthma is so uncontrolled yet I have not even been considered to trial some of the more medications till now.

I need to keep myself grounded though. Even though the results of this drug in others has been fantastic I really don’t want to be disappointed and pin all my hopes on it to then be totally devastated that it doesn’t work or it doesn’t work well enough to justify keeping me on it. Even with the best results there can be from the mepolizumab my lung issues won’t totally be cured as the years of uncontrolled asthma have caused a lot of airway remodelling and scarring which cant be reversed.

Fingers crossed the next three months are full of good things and I can stay on the mepolizumab as I desperately want my life back or even just some of my life back where I don’t have to spend all the time I am not working resting to make sure I am then able to work the next day.

Will keep updating as I go and if I see effects from it.