Biologic drugs to treat asthma have been around for two decades, but a surprising number of family doctors still aren’t prescribing them to kids and adults.

A new survey found that more than two in five primary care docs (42%) are unfamiliar with asthma biologics, according to findings presented at this month’s American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

The doctors didn’t know the criteria for prescribing the drugs — including essential lab work — and often waited until a patient had experienced two or more asthma attacks in a year before referring them to an asthma specialist, the survey found.

“We know that many people who suffer from asthma are regularly seen by PCPs, and we wanted to know if PCPs were familiar with biologics to treat asthma,” said lead researcher Dr. Bijalben Patel, a resident at the University of South Florida (USF). 

“We also wanted to explore at what point PCPs were referring asthma patients with uncontrolled symptoms to asthma specialists, and whether they were aware of eligibility requirements for a patient to start biologic treatment,” Patel added in a meeting news release.

The researchers surveyed 85 primary care physicians via e-mail, including internists, family medicine specialists and pediatricians.

They found that 82% do not get the labs needed to prescribe biologics, including 90% who do not test for absolute eosinophil count. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell that are active in allergic conditions.

“The results of the survey point to the need to improve the communication between primary care physicians and asthma care specialists, including regarding use of biologics,” said senior researcher Dr. Juan Carlos Cardet, an associate professor of allergy and immunology at USF.

“Biologics have become an important tool in the treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases such as atopic dermatitis [eczema], chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps and eosinophilic esophagitis, and can prevent substantial ill results from occurring in patients who are eligible for them,” Cardet added.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about biologic therapy for asthma.

SOURCE: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, news release, Nov. 9, 2023