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US approves first treatment for peanut allergies in children

Written by Science

Last week, a new drug called Palforzia was approved by the FDA [Food & Drug Administration], with the intention to help children who suffer peanut allergies. Whilst it won’t remove the allergies completely, it will reduce the impacts of unintentional exposure.

A 21% increase of childhood peanut allergy suffers between 2010 and 2017 was found by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Consequently, this results in a figure of nearly 2.5% of US children with this allergy, leading to a huge amount of young people susceptible to the life threatening reaction of anaphylaxis. It’s been found that peanut allergies are the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency which results in constriction of airways, swelling of the throat and a severe drop in blood pressure, amongst other consequences. Whilst antihistamines and epinephrine (in EpiPens etc) are available to treat this reaction, it can be fatal if the situation is not dealt with promptly.

Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research commented:

“Peanut allergy affects approximately 1 million children in the U.S. and only 1 out of 5 of these children will outgrow their allergy. Because there is no cure, allergic individuals must strictly avoid exposure to prevent severe and potentially life-threatening reactions.”

“Even with strict avoidance, inadvertent exposures can and do occur. When used in conjunction with peanut avoidance, Palforzia provides an FDA-approved treatment option to help reduce the risk of these allergic reactions in children with peanut allergy.”

A course of Palforzia will provide the patient with escalating doses of purified peanut powder, before reaching a “daily maintenance dose”. This takes six months and works to slowly allow the child’s immune system to adapt to the milder physical effects of peanuts, to hopefully increase their tolerance to the nut.

The most recent clinical trial left 67.2% of participants [aged 4 – 17] able to cope with approximately the amount of peanut protein found in two peanuts. However, only 4% of those who didn’t receive Palforzia found the same result.

Unfortunately, when tested on adults, Palforzia didn’t seem to have as much of a beneficial effect. It will also not be administered to those with uncontrolled asthma, due to the discovered side effects of the product.

Another concern is that with the drug containing small amounts of peanut protein, it can still trigger anaphylaxis. Consequently, as users start taking larger doses, it should be done under medical supervision.

So far, the drug has not been authorised for patients in the UK, but this is a potential development we should see in the years to come. It’s likely that this breakthrough will encourage research into the control of other common childhood allergies, including allergies to milk, eggs, soy and wheat.

Last modified: 24th February 2020

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