For the past 20 to 25 years, peanuts and peanut butter have been persona non grata in school lunchrooms and pretty much anywhere else that kids eat. It may seem ridiculous, but with the US Food and Drug Administration saying that roughly a million American children suffer from a deadly serious peanut allergy, the abundance of caution makes sense.
Thanks to a new breakthrough, however, it seems like we could be on the verge of a new era where schools are a safer space for peanuts. This week, the FDA approved the first-ever drug specifically designed to minimize the risk of serious allergic reactions to peanuts.
Palforzia won’t cure a peanut allergy outright. But for those aged 4 to 17 with a confirmed peanut allergy diagnosis, it can help increase their tolerance to small amounts of peanuts. That should help prevent a serious allergic reaction through accidental exposure.
That makes the treatment a useful safeguard against the threat of a food allergy that potentially afflicts up to 2.5 percent of American children. According to USA Today, peanut allergies send one out of every four diagnosed kids to the emergency room each year, frequently with anaphylaxis. Only one in five kids with a peanut allergy will outgrow the condition as they age.
To those tasked with mitigating the risk of food allergies, the emergence of this potential treatment comes as a huge relief.
“For so long, we had nothing to offer these patients,” Dr. Pamela Guerrerio of the National Institutes of Health, an organization which helps to fund food allergy treatment research, told USA Today. “We finally have a treatment. That’s a big step.”
Of course, there are potential side effects and the usual hoops to jump through in order to access the Aimmune Therapeutics-manufactured drug. Potential side effects can include hives, redness or swelling of the skin, to dangerous throat constrictions and loss of blood flow. Only patients enrolled in the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy program, which weighs the risks and benefits of certain treatments, are eligible to receive Palforzia through certain healthcare providers and pharmacies.
At a time when scrutiny of costs for prescription drugs like insulin are at the center of America’s healthcare debate, Palforzia won’t come cheap. Aimmune Therapeutics will offer the drug for $890 a month, though the ultimate cost for patients will (at least hopefully) be lower through insurance coverage.
Despite all that, this news is sure to come as a relief to parents of peanut allergy sufferers, who won’t have to worry quite as intensely about their kid crossing paths with a dreaded peanut. May this be the first step towards a future where we can all enjoy a good pb&j.