Drug companies ramp up efforts against life-threatening food allergies

Drug companies ramp up efforts against life-threatening food allergies
A treatment from biotech company Aimmune is one of a number of new approaches drug companies are working on to counter the rising prevalence of allergies. (Source: NBC)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA/NBC) - Will Brody’s allergy to nuts is so severe he’s had to use an Epipen four times to counter dangerous attacks.

But through a clinical trial of a new approach to peanut allergy, he’s built up a tolerance that should protect him from accidental exposure.

The treatment is from biotech company Aimmune, and it’s one of a number of new approaches drug companies are working on to counter the rising prevalence of allergies.

“If we treated 10 children, we could get 8 of those children through the treatment process and essentially protected from accidental exposure to peanuts out there in the real world,” Aimmune president and CEO, Dr. Jayson Dallas said.

French biotech DBV Technologies is working on a similar program. It uses a patch to administer a dose equivalent to 1/1000th of a peanut every day. The goal is to re-train the immune system to tolerate peanuts.

Biotech giant Regeneron is taking allergy research even further.

Its recently approved medicine, Dupixent, targets two signaling molecules that become overactive in allergic diseases like asthma and atopic dermatitis.

George Yancopoulos is president and chief scientific officer at Regeneron.

“The more specifically you can identify what’s wrong with the immune system and what’s overactive, you can target only that,” Yancopoulos said.

Regeneron is testing the drug in other allergic disorders, as well as in combination with Aimmune’s therapy for peanut allergy. Regeneron is also exploring whether it can develop drugs that target the cause of each specific allergy.

“We have a program for cat allergy for example," Jamie Orengo who’s also with Regeneron said. "We know what the major driver is from the cat allergen that’s inducing a lot of the symptoms. Then we actually took it into a Phase 1 clinical study and showed that patients do have symptomatic relief.”

For Orengo, the work is deeply personal since her three sons all have severe allergies.

“It definitely puts a spark in everything that you do, because I see how much this affects my children,” said Orengo.

If both Aimmune and DBV are successful, their treatments could reach the market next year.

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