Drug hope for millions of people living with chronic cough

06 October 2022 - The new treatment trialled at King’s College Hospital, has been found to ease the symptoms of chronic cough by up to 60%

Prof Surinder Birring

A respiratory consultant at King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust published a study in The Lancet earlier this year about the new drug Gefapixant, which has been found to ease the symptoms of chronic cough by up to 60%.

Professor Surinder Birring, who leads the specialist cough clinic at King’s College Hospital, was the Chief Investigator during one of two global trials which recruited over 1,000 patients living with chronic coughing to test the new drug.

Chronic coughing is defined as a cough lasting over 8 weeks and currently affects between 5 to 10% of the UK population, with some people coughing thousands a time a day over many years.

While many patients improve with treatment of associated conditions such as asthma and nasal disease, many do not. The condition can also cause abdominal pain, urinary incontinence in women, as well as anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping.

Gefapixant, which is taken orally, was tested over two clinical trials – Cough 1 and Cough 2 - that lasted 52 weeks. In both studies the drug resulted in a reduction in coughing for up to six months, the research suggests.

The drug works by blocking receptors in the sensory nerves that control coughing and reduces their hypersensitivity.

Gefapixant works within days of being administered and has been shown to be effective in nearly 70% of trial patients.

The trial results are now being evaluated by the UK’s drug regulator, MHRA. If approved, Gefapixant will be the first new cough treatment in over 50 years.

Consultant in Respiratory Medicine at King’s College Hospital, Professor Surinder Birring said: “These global trials have demonstrated that Gefapixant has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for patients who struggle with chronic coughing and its distressing effects.

“As effective treatments for cough are currently an unmet clinical need and with no new therapies being approved in over 50 years, Gefapixant offers new hope to thousands of people.”

King’s patient Patty Harris has been living with unexplained chronic cough for almost three decades. After contracting the flu in 1995, Patty says the cough she developed then has never gone away.

Patty experiences 10 to 20 severe bouts of coughing each day, equivalent to thousands of individual coughs. She describes the coughs as “sharp spasms,” with each bout lasting for two to three minutes at a time.

She said: “It feels like someone has pushed a pin or sharp object into my throat. It’s not like having a tickly cough – it’s much more extreme, to the point where I have passed out a few times.”

“Over the years, I’ve had to curtail certain opportunities, as people don’t want to watch someone coughing,” she added.

Patty hopes that new drugs like Gefapixant can be made available to people living with chronic cough. She said: “It’s a tragic condition that has stopped me and many others form doing the things we love. Thanks to the development of new treatments, I hope that that the millions of people living with the condition no longer have to suffer.”