The antibiotic telithromycin may be helpful in treating acute asthma attacks, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study showed that telithromycin sped up the recovery time of patients who had asthma attacks by three days, reduced their symptoms and improved lung function.

In the study, researchers tested telithromycin, made by Swiss drugmaker sanofi-aventis and not currently used for treating asthma. The trial investigated 278 patients at 70 centers worldwide. Patients were enrolled in the study within 24 hours of an acute asthma attack requiring acute medical care. They were then randomized to either 10 days oral treatment with a single 800 mg dose of telithromycin, or placebo, in addition to usual treatment.

Symptoms and lung function for the patients in the telithromycin group improved significantly compared to those in the placebo group, noted the researchers. Recovery time was also cut from an average of eight days for the placebo group, to five days for those in the telithromycin group.

"Traditionally, antibiotics have not proven effective in treating asthma attacks, but this development could open up a whole new area of research in the treatment of asthma," said Sebastian Johnston of Imperial College London, who was the study's lead researcher. "Although we're not sure about the exact mechanism which caused this antibiotic to be effective, this study indicates it does clearly have a beneficial effect."