It’s estimated that about 1.6 million children and teens in the United States are allergic to peanuts. It’s one of the most common and severe allergies in our world today, and until this year there seemed to be no feasible way of combating such a huge epidemic that affects so many individuals. However, a major treatment that’s been in the works for quite some time now has finally been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be distributed amongst the general public.
The treatment is called Palforzia, and was developed by Aimmune Therapeutics, a company whose main goal has always been to find the most effective treatments for all types of allergies. Palforzia works a lot like traditional vaccines against diseases such as the flu; by putting a little bit of the virus itself into the patient’s body. In this case the “virus” that’s being introduced to allergen patients is a specially prepared peanut powder that’s ingested daily.
Giving someone with a severe peanut allergy trace amounts of peanut powder may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it is safe. The amount of powder swallowed daily is extremely small, and over the course of a few months, the amount is gradually increased until the child/teens body is better equipped to tolerate peanuts in the case of an accidental bite. It’s important to note that Palforzia is not a cure for peanut allergies, but instead is a treatment for those with an extreme allergy to the nut so that if they do accidentally ingest something with peanuts in it in the real world, it won’t be as much of an urgent situation. Those who take Palforzia must continue to avoid eating peanuts.
“Peanut allergy carries an overwhelming psycho-social burden that impacts patients and their families daily – peanuts are everywhere, and the threat of a severe reaction related to an accidental peanut exposure dominates families’ daily lives. The risk of accidental exposure is real, and we, as a community, have long awaited an option beyond avoiding peanuts alone. We are thrilled with today’s FDA approval of Palforzia as it fills a long-standing need in the treatment of peanut allergy,” said Lisa Gable, Chief Executive Officer, Food Allergy Research and Education.
Palforzia is more than just the world’s first treatment for peanut allergies, it’s actually the first treatment for food allergies in general. However, the scientists behind the vaccine want the public to know that the treatment is not for everyone, as like any other medication, it can have some serious side effects; one of which being an occasional severe allergic reaction. It’s for this reason alone that as the drug begins getting prescribed to individuals, the FDA is requiring all patients to enroll in a special safety program that entails only taking the first dose, and each increased dose, under the supervision of a trained medical expert at a certified health center, according to the press release.
Aimmune also mentioned in their official release that they hope to begin handing out prescriptions within the next month. As of right now Palforzia costs $890 per month, but it will vary based on insurance and Aimmune also will be offering a “patient co-pay assistance program.” As a treatment for one of the deadliest allergies in the world, the demand is set to be high, but the effectiveness makes it completely worth it. So how does it work exactly?
“The powder, stored in a capsule, is mixed into any unheated food. Patients take the first dose in a doctor’s office, in case of a bad allergic reaction. Every few weeks, the dose is increased until after about six months, they’re taking the equivalent of about one peanut. In a study of nearly 500 children, two-thirds who received Palforzia could eat the equivalent of two peanuts,” (AP).
When it comes down to if a drug such as Palforzia will be worth it for you or your child, it really is a matter of how severe the allergy is, and what your physician thinks. During the study about 9% of the subjects had severe reactions, hence the need for the initial doses to be done under a doctor’s supervision. Like any new medical treatment, there’s just as many risks as there are benefits.
The ultimate goal is that Aimmune will be able to use the same science that went into Palforzia for other allergy medications; the company is already in its preliminary testing stages for medications combating dairy or fish allergies. Only time will tell how much more effective these treatments become, but for now, we can celebrate this as one of the greatest medical accomplishments to happen to the allergy community.