Biologic treatments are a new ‘add-on’ treatment available to some people with severe, uncontrolled asthma. They are used in addition to regular medications. Biologics are also known as monoclonal antibody therapy.

Biologics work by recognising and blocking substances in the lungs that cause lung inflammation and asthma symptoms. Biologics are given as injections every four to eight weeks. Many people can learn to give themselves these injections safely at home.

There are three biologics available in New Zealand. Omalizumab (brand name: Xolair®), mepolizumab (brand name: Nucala®) and more recently benralizumab (Fasenra®). Omalizumab is used to treat severe allergic asthma, whereas mepolizumab and benralizumab are used to treat people with severe eosinophilic asthma: a type of asthma caused by high numbers of allergic white blood cells that cause swelling and inflammation in the lungs.

These medications are funded in New Zealand for people who meet specific criteria. These medications are particularly good at reducing the number of asthma attacks people have and reducing their need for oral corticosteroids. As a result, they are mainly used for people who are still having four or more courses of prednisone per year despite appropriate changes being made to their inhalers. Your healthcare practitioner can refer you to a respiratory specialist, who will assess if you meet the criteria.