People who suffer from life-threatening peanut allergies may soon be able to cure their condition by wearing a skin patch, according to the findings of a phase 2 trial.
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A patch that delivers peanut protein via the skin reduced peanut allergy among adults and children, a finding that warrants further investigation in a phase 3 trial.
Allergy immunotherapy delivers a controlled dose of protein known to induce allergy, so that the body gradually becomes acclimatised and therefore less sensitive to the protein. Researchers think that using a skin patch to deliver the protein may be more safe and effective than using a pill, which carries the risk of triggering allergy, just as eating a peanut would.
For the trial, Hugh Sampson from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and colleagues randomly assigned 221 participants (aged 6 to 55 years) who were allergic to peanuts to wearing a Viaskin peanut patch that contained 50 μg, 100 μg or 250 μg of peanut protein or a placebo patch for 12 months. Participants were considered as having responded to the treatment if they could tolerate ten times the amount of peanuts they could tolerate prior to the treatment.
As reported in Journal of the American Medical Association, more participants who wore the 250-μg peanut patch (28 people, 50%) responded to the treatment than those who wore a placebo patch (14 people, 25%).
No difference was seen in treatment response between those who wore the 100-μg patch and those who wore the placebo patch. The proportion of people who had an adverse reaction (mainly local skin reactions) to the patches was similar across all groups.
Experts have referred to the findings as evidence of real hope for people who must continuously watch what they eat in case they consume peanut protein, exposure to which can trigger reactions ranging from a mild rash through to anaphylactic shock. Peanut allergy affects around one in 50 people in the UK.
Holly Shaw from Allergy UK says: “For those living with peanut allergy having hope of one day being free from this burden would be life-changing.”
Sampson and team now want to replicate the technique in a far larger study, to determine the optimum dosage for the patch.
“This clinical trial contributes towards a growing body of preliminary research into epicutaneous immunotherapy for treating peanut allergy and is one step further towards developing a much needed safe and effective treatment to address the increasing prevalence of food allergy,” says Shaw.