Parents of kids with peanut allergies are taking a huge sigh of relief. The first-ever drug to treat this life-threatening condition just got one step closer to approval by the Food and Drug Administration. An F.D.A expert advisory panel recommended the drug, called Palforzia, for approval last Friday. While it doesn’t cure peanut allergies, Palforzia is designed to mitigate the life-threatening effects of accidental exposure to peanuts. This is achieved by slowly and methodically exposing children to small traces of peanut protein over the course of six months.
The drug could have other positive impacts for families.
In addition to having the potential to save lives, this new drug will relieve the fear and anxiety many families with highly allergic children face. According to the New York Times, Dr. James R. Baker Jr., director of the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center at University of Michigan, spoke at the F.D.A.’s advisory panel meeting. He stated, “Right now the only approved approach to this allergy is to avoid peanuts, and the amount of effort and cost involved in making sure everything your child is exposed to is peanut-free is overwhelming to most families.” Dr. Baker was paid by Aimmune Therapeutics, the company that manufactures the drug.
More than a dozen families also attended the hearing to show their support for the new drug. (Aimmune paid for some for the families’ travel expenses.) Parents and children spoke about the tremendous difference the drug had made in their lives, not only medically, but also socially. They are now able to participate in a wide range of activities without constantly fearing peanut exposure.
Yet, some experts are feeling more cautious about the drug.
Scientists have only conducted one study to examine the drug’s effectiveness. In that study, two-thirds of the participants were able to tolerate exposure to the equivalent of two peanuts without an allergic reaction. Still, some study participants experienced side-effects like eosinophilic esophagitis, an inflammatory disease of the esophagus, triggered by exposure to allergens. Additionally, the long-term effects of the treatment are unknown.
For many parents, this is a risk they are willing to take. Lianne Mandelbaum, whose son has a severe peanut allergy, wrote about it on the Facebook page for her blog, No Nut Traveler. “As food allergy families it should be our choice whether to undergo a treatment and we NEED multiple options. I am heartened by the FDA’s decision and I hope it inspires more interest in the food allergy space and more dollars given to research.”