An End to Peanut Allergies Is Close
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because millions of Americans are affected by food allergies.
By Nick Fouriezos
For decades, millions of Americans have gone to the doctor, said they have a food allergy and been given simple advice: “Just avoid it.”
They didn’t have a better answer — until now. At least four independent drugs for peanut allergies are set to enter the market this year or next. Palforzia, a treatment that uses a peanut powder mixed with pudding or applesauce to build up tolerance, received FDA approval in January. Others in testing include the Viaskin Peanut patch, and oral therapies such as Camallergy’s CA002 and the University of North Carolina’s SLIT program.
They each expose users to low, controlled doses of peanut allergens, helping build immunity. And they could represent among the biggest medical breakthroughs of our time — perhaps this generation’s version of the polio vaccine.
It’s huge. Nobody has done this for food allergies at all.
Edwin Kim, University of North Carolina
That’s because they would be the first successful treatments for any food allergy, and could pave the way for similar strategies to address everything from lactose intolerance to egg allergies. An estimated 32 million Americans have food allergies, and some 1.8 million kids deal with peanut sensitivities.
“It’s huge. Nobody has done this for food allergies at all,” says Edwin Kim, director of the UNC Allergy & Immunology Clinic.
For a problem nearly unheard of in the mid-20th century, food allergies have grown exponentially. While it’s often seen as a childhood problem, only 1 in 5 outgrow allergies. And the generation of children who developed peanut allergies in the ’90s are now young adults. “It … is quickly becoming an everybody problem,” Kim says. Parents, school systems and government programs must also adjust as a result.
A single peanut kernel can contain 300 mg of peanut protein — three times the amount that can trigger the type of severe allergic reaction that often requires an EpiPen injection to halt. “Even with strict avoidance, inadvertent exposures can and do occur,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement announcing the approval of Palforzia.
As a food allergy doctor, Kim already knew the shocking effects even a tiny dose of peanuts could have on people — everything from rashes to going into shock. But watching each of his three young children develop their own allergies solidified his belief that “just avoid it” was tragically insufficient as medical advice. School cafeterias, after all, still serve peanut butter sandwiches.
To be clear, these proposed treatments won’t “cure” peanut allergies. But they could erase many of the major, deadly reactions that patients have by improving tolerance levels. Those who are allergic shouldn’t expect to scarf down PB&Js anytime soon, but not having to fear that an accidental brush with nuts could take their lives is an even more delicious treat.