New shot may save kids from life-threatening food allergies

STANFORD, Calif. — A revolutionary new treatment for food allergies could soon save children from life-threatening reactions. Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine have discovered that the drug omalizumab (brand name Xolair) can prevent dangerous allergic reactions to tiny amounts of allergenic foods, potentially transforming the lives of those affected.

Food allergies pose a constant threat to individuals, especially children, with the risk of potentially fatal reactions from accidental exposure to common products like peanuts, milk, or eggs.

“Patients impacted by food allergies face a daily threat of life-threatening reactions due to accidental exposures,” says study lead author Dr. Robert Wood, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a media release. “The study showed that omalizumab can be a layer of protection against small, accidental exposures.”

Xolair, already approved by the FDA for treating allergic asthma and chronic hives, works by targeting and neutralizing IgE antibodies responsible for allergic reactions. This groundbreaking study led to the FDA’s approval of Xolair for reducing the risk of allergic reactions to foods on Feb. 16, offering a beacon of hope for those with multi-food allergies.

The study involved 177 children with severe allergies to peanuts and at least two other foods. Over four months, participants received monthly or bimonthly injections of Xolair. The results were remarkable, with two-thirds of the 118 participants who received the drug being able to safely consume small amounts of foods that previously triggered their allergies.

“I’m excited that we have a promising new treatment for multi-food allergic patients. This new approach showed really great responses for many of the foods that trigger their allergies,” notes study senior author Dr. Sharon Chinthrajah, associate professor of medicine and of pediatrics and the acting director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford Medicine.

Food allergies pose a constant threat to individuals, especially children, with the risk of potentially fatal reactions from accidental exposure to common products like peanuts, milk, or eggs. (Credit: Vladislav Nikonov/Unsplash)

Food allergies affect approximately eight percent of children and 10 percent of adults in the United States, making everyday activities like dining out or attending parties a challenge. The social, psychological, and economic impacts of these allergies are profound, with families often having to purchase expensive allergen-free foods.

Currently, the primary treatment for food allergies is oral immunotherapy, which involves ingesting small, increasing amounts of allergenic foods under medical supervision to build tolerance. However, this method has its drawbacks, including the risk of allergic reactions and the lengthy process of desensitization, particularly for individuals with multiple food allergies.

Xolair offers a promising alternative by providing protection against multiple food allergens simultaneously.

“We think it should have the same impact regardless of what food it is,” says Dr. Chinthrajah, highlighting the drug’s broad potential benefits.

In the study, participants were re-tested between weeks 16 and 20 to assess their tolerance to each allergy-triggering food. The results showed that 79 patients (66.9%) who had taken Xolair could tolerate at least 600 milligrams of peanut protein, equivalent to two or three peanuts, compared with only four patients (6.8%) who received a placebo.

While Xolair appears safe and did not cause significant side-effects beyond minor reactions at the injection site, further research is necessary to answer lingering questions about its long-term efficacy and impact on the immune system.

This discovery opens the door to a safer and more manageable approach to treating food allergies, particularly for young children at high risk of accidental exposure. As the research progresses, there is hope that Xolair could also improve other allergic conditions, offering a comprehensive solution for those suffering from food allergies and related disorders.

The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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