Single-inhaler triple therapy in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a systematic review

Sue Langham (Lead / Corresponding author), Jen Lewis, Nick Pooley, Nina Embleton, Julia Langham, MeiLan K. Han, James D. Chalmers

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)
    111 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: Guidelines recommend that treatment with a long-acting β2 agonist (LABA), a long-acting muscarinic antagonist (LAMA), and inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), i.e. triple therapy, is reserved for a select group of symptomatic patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who continue to exacerbate despite treatment with dual therapy (LABA/LAMA). A number of single-inhaler triple therapies are now available and important clinical questions remain over their role in the patient pathway. We compared the efficacy and safety of single-inhaler triple therapy to assess the magnitude of benefit and to identify patients with the best risk-benefit profile for treatment. We also evaluated and compared study designs and population characteristics to assess the strength of the evidence base.

    Methods: We conducted a systematic search, from inception to December 2018, of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of single-inhaler triple therapy in patients with COPD. The primary outcome was the annual rate of moderate and severe exacerbations.

    Results: We identified 523 records, of which 15 reports/abstracts from six RCTs were included. Triple therapy resulted in the reduction of the annual rate of moderate or severe exacerbations in the range of 15-52% compared with LAMA/LABA, 15-35% compared to LABA/ICS and 20% compared to LAMA. The patient-based number needed to treat for the moderate or severe exacerbation outcome ranged between approximately 25-50 (preventing one patient from having an event) and the event-based number needed to treat of around 3-11 (preventing one event). The absolute benefit appeared to be greater in patients with higher eosinophil counts or historical frequency of exacerbations and ex-smokers. In the largest study, there was a significantly higher incidence of pneumonia in the triple therapy arm. There were important differences in study designs and populations impacting the interpretation of the results and indicating there would be significant heterogeneity in cross-trial comparisons.

    Conclusion: The decision to prescribe triple therapy should consider patient phenotype, magnitude of benefit and increased risk of adverse events. Future research on specific patient phenotype thresholds that can support treatment and funding decisions is now required from well-designed, robust, clinical trials.

    Trial Registration: PROSPERO #CRD42018102125 .

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number242
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalRespiratory Research
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2019


    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Combination drug therapy
    • Disease exacerbation
    • Inhalers

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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