Race to provide treatment for life-threatening peanut allergy
A NEWLY built peanut product factory in Clearwater, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico, is gearing up to ship millions of packets of nuts a year. So far, so normal.
But the company behind the facility isn’t roasting them, or salting them, or covering them in chocolate.
It is grinding them up into tiny, tightly consistent amounts and putting them in drug capsules for the treatment of children with life-threatening peanut allergies.
The idea is that by raising the dose in a controlled way over time, children who would otherwise die without treatment on accidental exposure to even traces of peanut can eat a small handful without a major reaction.
In ongoing clinical trials the product, code-named AR101, is on track to do just that. “Our goal is to give bite-proof level of protection,” says Stephen Dilly, chief executive of California-based drug firm Aimmune, which is producing AR101.
“So if a child was to take a bite of a friend’s peanut butter sandwich, they would be fine.”
It is not an entirely novel approach – a handful of private clinics exist that offer increased dosing of nuts in a controlled clinical setting.
But AR101 is potentially the first scalable, affordable and consistently safe product that has a chance of passing muster with medicines regulators in the US and Europe, ready for mass distribution.
Aimmune is one of the firms leading the global race to find long-term treatments, and potentially cures, for food allergies, a growing blight for millions of families around the world, and a market forecast to be worth $8-billion (R109-billion).
Aimmune is in a battle with French rival DBV Technologies to develop the first long-term treatment for peanut allergy sufferers, the largest nut allergy market with roughly six million sufferers in the US and Europe alone.
It is also the most deadly, accounting for 100-200 deaths in children in the US a year.
While both companies command billion-dollar-plus market valuations on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange, they are taking subtly different approaches.
DBV’s product increases a patient’s exposure to peanuts through patches applied to the skin, although it is an open question whether this can be as effective as oral ingestion, as Aimmune is pursuing.
Neither company purports to offer a cure – they are offering desensitisation to peanuts – and both also come with the potential for side effects.
For its part, Aimmune envisages the first few doses of AR101 should be taken under supervision in specialist allergy clinics in case of adverse reactions. But excitement none the less surrounds both products, which are navigating final clinical trials and nearing launch. AR101 could be on the market as early as 2019, and in the UK by 2020. “It’s been a long journey to get here,” Aimmune’s Dilly says. “Initially drug makers weren’t interested, they’d say ‘you can’t patent a peanut’. “But it’s surprisingly tough to make an agricultural product into a medicine. “There are as many as 13 proteins in peanuts that can trigger reactions, so you need to make sure that they are all spread in the same ratio in the drug. “You need to control every step of the process, from consistent growing facilities, to how you shell them and ground them.” If Aimmune has success with peanuts, it has plans to move into treatments for the other tree-nut allergies, including hazelnut, walnut, pecan and Brazil, as well as shellfish. – The Daily Telegraph