New asthma drug changes a life |

New asthma drug changes a life

SUMMIT COVE – When he was 6 years old, Summit Cove resident Drew Roberts spent six weeks in an intensive care unit after one of his asthma attacks.

“It was very touch and go,” said Denise Roberts, his mother.

Doctors diagnosed Drew, who is now 16, with allergic asthma when he was 18 months old and classified it as life-


Until five years ago, Drew’s life revolved around trying to limit and deal with asthma attacks. When friends invited him to their houses, his first question was, “Do you have pets?” If they did, he missed out on dinners, games and sleepovers.

He couldn’t play many sports, because he couldn’t run. Even movie theaters were off limits because dander on other people’s clothing often triggered an attack.

One of his last major attacks occurred while he was sleeping. His mother noticed he wasn’t breathing, but Drew didn’t realize it until he awoke to an ambulance, fire engine and police cars.

“I knew how risky and dangerous asthma is – I was afraid to go to bed,” Denise Roberts said. “It was just always afraid. I was a very overprotective parent. We were pretty much attached at the hip. I was just constantly watching him – at least 10 different times during the day, checking to see if he was breathing.”

Drew had tried the maximum doses of every medication on the market, suffered from side effects and still had severe asthma attacks.

But five years ago, everything began to change. Genentech, a biotech company, accepted Drew and 1,070 other asthma patients into a clinical trial to study the efficacy of its new drug, olair. Other medications treat asthma symptoms, but olair acts before symptoms start.

In clinical trials, olair “significantly reduce(d) asthma exacerbations,” according to Genentech’s efficacy and safety report. Drew doesn’t have any side effects, but the most frequent adverse reactions reported by other patients include injection site reactions, infections, sinusitis and headaches.

“When I started it, it changed me completely,” Drew said.

The zoo – one of the main places that would trigger an attack – was one of the first places he went after starting the medication. With the medication, he can visit friends’ houses, go to movies and play demanding sports. This fall, he plans to try out for the golf and swim teams. Last winter, he skied almost every weekend. Before using olair, he couldn’t ski because the cold weather exacerbated his asthma.

“Truly for us, it’s a cure,” Denise Roberts said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be like that for everyone, but it’s really huge for people like Drew.”

For the past five years, Drew went to Denver every two weeks to receive his injection. Drew adjusted to his new-found freedom from asthma quickly, but it took his mom a little longer.

“It took me two years to feel normal again, like he’s OK, he’s not sick,” she said. “I always say it changed my life more than it ever changed Drew’s. It gave me my life back.”

But, Denise Roberts’ worry has temporarily returned. Genentech had to stop administering olair to its clinical trial patients five months ago because trials ended, but the drug wasn’t approved.

Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved olair for people ages 12 and older. But Drew will have to wait until July 18, when the company begins distributing the olair to the public. In the meantime, he’s taking allergy medication, using his inhaler two to three times a day and staying away from animals and other irritants.

“It’s tough,” Drew Roberts said. “I wake up and can’t breathe. I can definitely tell a difference (since I stopped taking olair). I’m looking forward to getting back on it and never worrying.”

If it weren’t for olair, Drew’s life would still be limited.

“I’d be worse than I am now – taking all this medicine and worrying all the time,” he said. “This is the only medicine that has worked for me to the point that I was fine.”

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at

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