For people with severe peanut allergies, safety is not as simple as just not eating the nut (or, more correctly, the legume). Many manufacturers process foods on equipment or in plants that also process products containing peanuts, making accidental exposure a high risk. But help may be on the way.
Aimmune Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company that develops treatments for potentially life-threatening food allergies, just completed clinical trials of a product called AR101. The capsule contains carefully measured amounts of peanut powder designed to help desensitize people with severe allergies. The study appears in the Nov. 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
During the 12-month trials, researchers gave 372 participants, most of whom were children and adolescents, gradually increasing doses of peanut powder until they reached a dose of 300 milligrams per day, equivalent to about three to four peanuts, for 24 weeks. At the end of the study, 250 of the volunteers, about 67 percent, were able to ingest 600 milligrams or more of peanut protein. AR101 did not appear to offer any benefit to the adults in the study, but only 10 percent of the children and adolescents suffered a reaction severe enough to require epinephrine, the life-saving drug contained in EpiPens many allergy sufferers carry. Overall, the need for epinephrine decreased by 81 percent.
AR101 may offer help for many allergy sufferers, but it is not a magic solution. “Desensitization was not easy on the patients,” and “is not something to start at home” without a carefully manufactured product, Michael Perkin, an allergy researcher from the Population Health Research Institute at St. George’s University of London, told Medscape. Ninety-five percent of the participants evidenced some reaction, 3.5 percent suffered severe or serious reactions, and one case resulted in a rapid onset of life-threatening symptoms.
Perkin also noted scientists don’t know the longer-term side effects of allergic individuals consuming daily doses of peanut powder, and the experiment will require careful follow-up.
Aimmune plans to submit applications for marketing approval in the United States next month and in Europe in the middle of 2019. —J.B.