Lunchtime, birthday parties and sleepovers may no longer need to be cause for concern thanks to Palforzia, a recently U.S. FDA-approved “oral immunotherapy” to treat peanut allergy – the first North American-approved food allergy medication.
Millions of Canadians have food allergies, including about 1 in 14 children, and the numbers have increased in recent years. Peanut allergy is the most common one among children, and among the most dangerous. Accidental exposures are frequent, with patients at risk of reactions ranging from hives and abdominal pain to life-threatening anaphylaxis. As there is no cure for food allergies, strict avoidance is necessary for survival in some cases.
Research suggests early life exposure to peanuts reduces peanut allergy by up to 86% in high-risk children. Hence Palforzia, manufactured by Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., is a specially prepared peanut powder in capsule form, taken daily in tiny amounts that are gradually increased over months to train children’s bodies to better tolerate peanuts in case of accidental exposure. In a study of nearly 500 children, two-thirds who received Palforzia could eat the equivalent of two peanuts after 12 months of daily doses, compared to just 4% of children given a placebo.
However, there is still work to be done. Palforzia users must still avoid peanuts, and the medication can also cause side-effects, including occasional severe allergic reactions. Caution must be taken on the first and increasing doses.
Still, we eagerly await Health Canada’s response to this big step forward in improving quality of life for the many Canadians limited by peanut and other food allergies.