The greatest prevalence of asthma is in preschool children; however, the clinical utility of asthma therapy for this age group is limited by a narrow therapeutic index, long-term tolerability, and frequency and/or difficulty of administration. Inhaled corticosteroids and inhaled cromolyn are the most commonly prescribed controller therapies for young children with persistent asthma, although very young patients may have difficulty using inhalers, and dose delivery can be variable. Moreover, reduced compliance with inhaled therapy relative to orally administered therapy has been reported. One potential advantage of montelukast is the ease of administering a once-daily chewable tablet; additionally, no tachyphylaxis or change in the safety profile has been evidenced after up to 140 and 80 weeks of montelukast therapy in adults and pediatric patients aged 6 to 14 years, respectively.
To our knowledge, this represents the first large, multicenter study to address the effects of a leukotriene receptor antagonist in children younger than 5 years of age with persistent asthma, as well as one of the few asthma studies that incorporated end points validated for use in preschool children.
Our primary objective was to determine the safety profile of montelukast, an oral leukotriene receptor antagonist, in preschool children with persistent asthma. Secondarily, the effect of montelukast on exploratory measures of asthma control was also studied.
We conducted a double-blind, multicenter, multinational study at 93 centers worldwide: including 56 in the United States, and 21 in countries in Africa, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. In this study, we randomly assigned 689 patients (aged 2–5 years) to 12 weeks of treatment with placebo (228 patients) or 4 mg of montelukast as a chewable tablet (461 patients) after a 2-week placebo baseline period. Patients had a history of physician-diagnosed asthma requiring use of β-agonist and a predefined level of daytime asthma symptoms. Caregivers answered questions twice daily on a validated, asthma-specific diary card and, at specified times during the study, completed a validated asthma-specific quality-of-life questionnaire. Physicians and caregivers completed a global evaluation of asthma control at the end of the study.
Efficacy end points included: daytime and overnight asthma symptoms, daily use of β-agonist, days without asthma, frequency of asthma attacks, number of patients discontinued because of asthma, need for rescue medication, physician and caregiver global evaluations of change, asthma-specific caregiver quality of life, and peripheral blood eosinophil counts. Although exploratory, the efficacy end points were predefined and their analyses were written in a data analysis plan before study unblinding. At screening and at study completion, a complete physical examination was performed. Routine laboratory tests were drawn at screening and weeks 6 and 12, and submitted to a central laboratory for analysis. Adverse effects were collected from caregivers at each clinic visit.
An intention-to-treat approach, including all patients with a baseline measurement and at least 1 postrandomization measurement, was performed for all efficacy end points. An analysis-of-variance model with terms for treatment, study center and stratum (inhaled/nebulized corticosteroid use, cromolyn use, or none) was used to estimate treatment group means and between-group differences and to construct 95% confidence intervals. Treatment-by-age, -sex, -race, -radioallergosorbent test, -stratum, and -study center interactions were evaluated by including each term separately. Fisher's exact test was used for between-group comparisons of the frequency of asthma attacks, discontinuations from the study because of worsening asthma, need for rescue medication, and the frequencies of adverse effects. Because of an imbalance in baseline values for eosinophil counts for the 2 treatment groups, an analysis of covariance was performed on the eosinophil change from baseline with the patient's baseline as covariate.
Of the 689 patients enrolled, approximately 60% were boys and 60% were white. Patients were relatively evenly divided by age: 21%, 24%, 30%, and 23% were aged 2, 3, 4, and 5 years, respectively. For 77% of the patients, asthma symptoms first developed during the first 3 years of life. During the placebo baseline period, patients had asthma symptoms on 6.1 days/week and used β-agonist on 6.0 days/week.
In over 12 weeks of treatment of patients aged 2 to 5 years, montelukast administered as a 4-mg chewable tablet produced significant improvements compared with placebo in multiple parameters of asthma control including: daytime asthma symptoms (cough, wheeze, trouble breathing, and activity limitation); overnight asthma symptoms (cough); the percentage of days with asthma symptoms; the percentage of days without asthma; the need for β-agonist or oral corticosteroids; physician global evaluations; and peripheral blood eosinophils. The clinical benefit of montelukast was evident within 1 day of starting therapy. Improvements in asthma control were consistent across age, sex, race, and study center, and whether or not patients had a positive radioallergosorbent test. Montelukast demonstrated a consistent effect regardless of concomitant use of inhaled/nebulized corticosteroid or cromolyn therapy.
Caregiver global evaluations, the percentage of patients experiencing asthma attacks, and improvements in quality-of-life scores favored montelukast, but were not significantly different from placebo.
There were no clinically meaningful differences between treatment groups in overall frequency of adverse effects or of individual adverse effects, with the exception of asthma, which occurred significantly more frequently in the placebo group. There were no significant differences between treatment groups in the frequency of laboratory adverse effects or in the frequency of elevated serum transaminase levels. Approximately 90% of the patients completed the study.
Oral montelukast (4-mg chewable tablet) administered once daily is effective therapy for asthma in children aged 2 to 5 years and is generally well tolerated without clinically important adverse effects. Similarly, in adults and children aged 6 to 14 years, montelukast improves multiple parameters of asthma control. Thus, this study confirms and extends the benefit of montelukast to younger children with persistent asthma.