First drug approved by FDA to treat kids’ peanut allergies in Arkansas

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA) — When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave approval to the first treatment for life-threating peanut allergy in children, the dedication and sacrifice of many Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) scientists, supporters and research participants played a foundational 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, MD, 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, has led the team that studied oral immunotherapy since its beginning, working with Wesley Burks, MD, 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.”

On Jan. 31, the FDA announced the approval of Palforzia, manufactured by Aimmune Therapeutics, Inc., a breakthrough 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.

ACRI and UAMS scientists continue to examine potential allergy treatments, depending on patient families to participate in clinical research. These studies range from implementing oral immunotherapy for other foods to studying multi-allergen therapy.

Over the next few months, physicians at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and other allergy treatment centers will begin prescribing Palforzia to patients who meet certain criteria.

For more info on Palforzia, including its risks and effectiveness, ask your allergist. More details are available in the FDA’s announcement here.

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