Peanut allergies could soon have a drug treatment

Millions of individuals worldwide suffer from peanut allergies. Researchers are developing a new treatment for fighting this allergy. A clinical trial had been conducted and the results are in.

Peanut allergy. Image Credit: Albina Glisic / Shutterstock
Peanut allergy. Image Credit: Albina Glisic / Shutterstock

The study results were presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting and were also published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The team of researchers explain that the principle of fighting the allergy is to build up a tolerance to the allergens carefully until the allergy is removed. The clinical trial was funded by Aimmune Therapeutics and included 551 participants with peanut allergy. Most of the participants were children aged between 4 and 17 years while others were aged up to 55 years. A quarter of the participants were given placebo pills while the others were initially started with half a milligram of protein powder pills that were increased to a maximum of 300 milligrams of peanut powder which is equal to a single peanut per day. This treatment continued for a year.

Results showed that two thirds of the participants who were given the treatment for 12 months then could tolerate up to 2 peanuts per day. Around half of the participants could safely tolerate up to four peanuts per day after treatment. Among those in placebo group only 4 percent could safely tolerate up to two peanuts per day safely without allergic reaction.

Dr. Jay Lieberman, co-author of the study and vice chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Food Allergy Committee in a statement said, “This is not a quick fix, and it doesn't mean people with peanut allergy will be able to eat peanuts whenever they want. But it is definitely a breakthrough.”

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) there has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of nuts and other food allergies among children over the past few years. Between 1997 and 2008 for example, the allergy to peanuts and tree nuts have tripled in the US says the FARE. Reaction to these allergies may range from rash or hives to life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. “This is not the cure, but it is a good first step,” said Dr. James R. Baker Jr., chief medical officer of FARE.

Daniel C. Adelman, Aimmune's chief medical officer and the study's senior author explained that the new treatment called AR101 does not guarantee complete freedom from peanut allergy but can protect individuals to a great extent. He said that the company would now apply for approval from the FDA and once they receive the nod from the authorities, the treatment could be prescribed.

Michael R. Perkin, Ph.D., of the Population Health Research Institute at St. George's, University of London wrote an accompanying editorial with the article in which he pointed out that the treatment did not work for all participants and around 12 percent of the participants on active drug had to withdraw from the study due to severe intolerance and side effects. He also warned that the long term effects of such allergen (in this case peanut protein) consumption are unknown and more research is necessary.

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