Peanut allergies affect 2% of U.S. children and are the leading cause of death by food allergies. Unlike many of them, peanut allergies are rarely outgrown, and there are currently no treatments. People with peanut allergies must scrutinize everything they eat and keep a lifesaving epinephrine injection pen on hand in case of an accidental exposure.
Pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop an FDA-approved treatment that will effectively desensitize peanut allergy, causing the immune system to chill out and not react hysterically to peanut protein exposure. News articles in February reported that the drug company Aimmune Therapeutics succeeded in a phase 3 clinical trial and is closing in on getting an approved treatment to market.
Aimmune’s oral drug, called AR101, contains tiny doses of peanut protein that are sprinkled daily over food to expose people to gradually increasing amounts of the allergen. This makes the immune cells less reactive, ultimately blunting the immune response to peanut protein.
A clinical trial showed that 67% of 4- to 17-year-olds who received the drug could tolerate a 600-milligram dose of peanut protein by the end of the study, compared with 4% of patients on a placebo. The positive trial enables Aimmune to apply for FDA approval, which the company says it plans to do by the end of 2018.