New pill to beat common cause of heavy snoring could be on the way as trial finds disrupted breathing and broken sleep halved in participants

  • First ever drug treatment, known as AD109, could help 1.5million UK adults 

A new nightly pill could help to banish heavy snoring.

In trials, many volunteers saw symptoms such as disrupted breathing and broken sleep nearly halved.

The pill, potentially the first ever drug treatment for heavy snorers, is thought to work by strengthening muscles in the airways to stop the tissue collapsing and blocking the flow of air. 

This is the main cause of obstructive sleep apnoea, the snoring condition that affects about 1.5 million UK adults.

As the throat muscles relax during sleep, surrounding tissue narrows or blocks the airways, interrupting normal breathing.

Trials of a new pill for heavy snorers saw symptoms such as heavy breathing and broken sleep nearly halved (file photo)

People with sleep apnoea endure repeated interruptions to their breathing which last ten seconds or more — until the lack of oxygen triggers the brain to kick-start breathing again.

Symptoms include loud snoring, noisy and laboured breathing, and daytime tiredness. Those affected usually have no memory of the interruptions. Untreated sleep apnoea can raise the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The main treatment for sleep apnoea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves wearing a mask at night that is attached to a pump to direct pressurised air into the airways to stop them closing.

Although it is effective, many people find the mask difficult to wear in bed. Up to 70 per cent of patients given CPAP abandon the device due to the discomfort, the journal BMC Pulmonary Medicine reported last year.

The pill, known as AD109, is a combination of two existing medications: aroxybutynin — a modified version of oxybutynin (already used to treat an overactive bladder) — and atomoxetine (used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Both drugs have effects on muscle activation and tone. Previous animal studies have suggested they strengthen the genioglossus muscle, which helps to keep the upper airways open.

The pill, known as AD109, is a combination of two existing medications: aroxybutynin and atomoxetine

 The pill, known as AD109, is a combination of two existing medications: aroxybutynin and atomoxetine

In a recent U.S. trial of the pill, 211 people with sleep apnoea were given AD109 or dummy pills to take at night for four weeks. They then had polysomnography, where sensors attached to the body measure brain waves, oxygen levels, heart rate and breathing during sleep.

The results, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine earlier this year, showed that after four weeks the overall symptoms score had dropped by more than half in 44 per cent of those taking the AD109 tablet.

Many went from an average of 45 sleep disruptions an hour to less than ten. Daytime fatigue was also reduced and the side-effects were relatively minor. The most common was a dry mouth.

Now a bigger trial, involving 1,500 patients, is being set up.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Jaydip Ray, a sleep apnoea expert at Sheffield University, said: ‘A tablet might revolutionise our management of this condition but we need to see results from larger trials.’