A panel of experts earlier this month recommended that the US Food and Drug Administration approve a new drug for children and teens with peanut allergies.
The drug, called Palforzia, was developed by California startup Aimmune Therapeutics to be taken daily in a regimen known as oral immunotherapy. The therapy involves ingesting small doses of peanut protein, gradually increased over months, to blunt the immune system’s overreaction to peanuts. When it’s effective, patients can become biteproof — that is, able to withstand small amounts of peanut that would have previously caused possibly dangerous allergic reactions.
Many families and physicians are celebrating. But some are also wondering how “new” Aimmune’s treatment really is. Some 200 of 5,000 board-certified U.S. allergists already offer oral immunotherapy to treat allergies to peanuts and other foods, using peanut flour or other products from retail vendors.
The treatment is not a cure, has side effects and doesn’t work for everyone. Yet over the past decade, more than 7,800 people have received it — and for those who do benefit, the therapy can be life-changing. “The stress and anxiety as a result of food allergies is comparable to that of other chronic illnesses,” psychologist Linda Herbert of Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., said at last week’s FDA meeting.