The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave approval to the first treatment for life-threating peanut allergies in children, and many Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) scientists, supporters and research participants played a role.
More than 18 years ago, ACRI pioneered the initial research into oral immune therapy for food allergies, studying egg allergies and within two years, identifying the potential to address peanut allergy through the same novel approach.
Stacie Jones, M.D., director of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) Food Allergy Program and a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) physician and professor of pediatrics practicing at ACH, led the team that studied oral immunotherapy since its beginning, working with Wesley Burks, who later transferred to Duke University and is now dean of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and chief executive officer of UNC Health Care.
“This is a need that started at the bedside,” Jones said. “We began the early work, developing protocols here in Arkansas and continued that collaboration with Dr. Burks’ research program. And over time, that eventually led to the trials that helped this treatment receive FDA approval. Arkansas Children’s Research Institute played a crucial role in helping move this therapy to the clinical setting, a moment families have awaited for years.”
The FDA announced Jan. 31 it had approved Palforzia, a treatment that works by desensitizing children to peanut protein over time.
With oral immunotherapy, patients take a controlled amount of peanut protein every day, as their tolerance slowly builds. Trials have shown that over time many children’s allergic reactions are lessened by taking Palforzia, making it possible to live without the constant risk of a serious reaction to a small amount of peanut exposure.
“This is a move toward a more personalized therapy that will change many lives, remembering that oral immunotherapy is not the right treatment for all affected by peanut allergy,” Jones said.
“We do see this making a difference for children and also paving the way for other therapies, which are also currently studied at ACRI,” said Dr. Amy Scurlock, ACRI food allergy researcher and an associate professor of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine.