Most randomized trials of treatment for asthma study highly selected patients under idealized conditions.
METHODS: We conducted two parallel, multicenter, pragmatic trials to evaluate the real-world effectiveness of a leukotriene-receptor antagonist (LTRA) as compared with either an inhaled glucocorticoid for first-line asthma-controller therapy or a long-acting beta(2)-agonist (LABA) as add-on therapy in patients already receiving inhaled glucocorticoid therapy. Eligible primary care patients 12 to 80 years of age had impaired asthma-related quality of life (Mini Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire [MiniAQLQ] score =6) or inadequate asthma control (Asthma Control Questionnaire [ACQ] score =1). We randomly assigned patients to 2 years of open-label therapy, under the care of their usual physician, with LTRA (148 patients) or an inhaled glucocorticoid (158 patients) in the first-line controller therapy trial and LTRA (170 patients) or LABA (182 patients) added to an inhaled glucocorticoid in the add-on therapy trial.
RESULTS: Mean MiniAQLQ scores increased by 0.8 to 1.0 point over a period of 2 years in both trials. At 2 months, differences in the MiniAQLQ scores between the two treatment groups met our definition of equivalence (95% confidence interval [CI] for an adjusted mean difference, -0.3 to 0.3). At 2 years, mean MiniAQLQ scores approached equivalence, with an adjusted mean difference between treatment groups of -0.11 (95% CI, -0.35 to 0.13) in the first-line controller therapy trial and of -0.11 (95% CI, -0.32 to 0.11) in the add-on therapy trial. Exacerbation rates and ACQ scores did not differ significantly between the two groups.
CONCLUSIONS: Study results at 2 months suggest that LTRA was equivalent to an inhaled glucocorticoid as first-line controller therapy and to LABA as add-on therapy for diverse primary care patients. Equivalence was not proved at 2 years. The interpretation of results of pragmatic research may be limited by the crossover between treatment groups and lack of a placebo group.