A new drug promises to increase allergy sufferers’ tolerance to peanuts in the form of a skin patch. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ever since my son’s body broke out into hives and his face instantly swelled up with the very first smear of peanut butter I offered him at age 1, peanuts (and tree nuts, as we later found him to be allergic to) have been an enemy in our home — and in the world at large. Every restaurant meal, every playdate with snacks, heck, anytime we go anywhere, we take our precious Epi-pen. Most of the time we also pack a stash of food that we’re sure is safe, so he’s not left hungry or just plain left out.
But more than anything else, it’s fear that makes life with food allergies a challenge. Ask any of the 3 million people who suffer from an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. (Studies show the number of children living with peanut allergy has tripled between 1997 and 2008). Or ask their parents, who act as the last line of defense against the seemingly omnipresent foe that could trigger a life threatening reaction, in the most severely allergic, with just one bite of a french fry cooked in peanut oil.
Doctors have told us that 20 percent of kids will outgrow an allergy diagnosed in childhood. Afflicted families like ours, then, just have to deal, wait, and hope. Until now.
A company in France recently received testing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to hold late-stage trials on a drug that promises to increase allergy sufferers’ tolerance to peanuts. DBV Technologies’ product, called Viaskin Peanut, comes in the form of an adhesive, reportedly similar to a nicotine patch. Pending testing success, reports say that the Viaskin Peanut patch could be available in the U.S. starting in early 2018.
In a Drugs.com article about earlier testing on the drug, Dr. Hugh Sampson, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai in New York City, said that, worn for a year, the patch “appears to educate cells to turn off the allergic reaction.” (Sampson did not immediately respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment).
Sampson led researchers assessing Viaskin Peanut in a study of more than 200 nut-allergic people, age 6 to 55, according to the story, which reveals that the study participants who wore the patch were “able to tolerate at least 1 gram of peanut protein—- about four peanuts” after a year.
News that the patch may be in stores in just three years triggered immediate response online. “Hope!!!” wrote on commenter on the Facebook page of my family’s go-to, nut-safe candy maker, Vermont Nut Free Chocolates. Another chimed in, “I love scientists and doctors! Good work!” Remarking on a local news report in Ohio about the patch, another Facebooker added, “I hope it’s successful, that would be wonderful.” And from a member of the No Nuts Moms group comes simple joy: “Oh my gosh, this would be amazing!”
But an allergy expert I consulted said it’s not yet time to pop the champagne — or toss the Epi-pen.
“This could potentially be very important for a significant portion of the peanut-allergic population,” James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education, writes in a statement shared with Yahoo Parenting about the news. “But the final analysis will depend on the outcome of the clinical trial.” Urging people to temper their high hopes, he added, “It’s unclear at this point, but this could potentially save lives. It all depends on the results of the clinical trial.”
Until then the facts from the CDC remain the only constant: “There is no cure for food allergies,” the organization levels on their website. “Strict avoidance of the food allergen is the only way to prevent a reaction.” Guess I’ll have to keep carrying a purse big enough for my nut-safe snack stash for a while more at least. But here’s to hoping it won’t be forever.