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Medicine to treat asthma could help reduce ‘life-threatening reactions’ to food allergies - study

Medicine to treat asthma could help reduce ‘life-threatening reactions’ to food allergies - study

Researchers have found that Omalizumab, a drug commonly prescribed to treat asthma, could also limit “life-threatening reactions” to food allergies in children.

Omalizumab, known under the brand name Xolair, is a medication approved to treat severe persistent asthma caused by an allergy.

“The day-to-day life of patients with food allergy is consumed by fear of accidental exposure to food allergens,” Dr Robert Wood, professor of paediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University and the study’s main author, said in a statement.

“Our findings have the potential to be very meaningful, and potentially even life-changing, for people with food allergies,” he added.

The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine this week.

Better tolerance of food allergens

All of the 180 study participants except three people were under the age of 17. The participants received either Omalizumab or a placebo for four to five months.

Omalizumab is an injection that works by binding to and deactivating immunoglobulin E (IgE), a molecule responsible for triggering allergies.

All the patients in the study had a history of peanut allergy and at least two other food allergies.

The researchers then observed how the patients responded to eating small amounts of allergenic foods.

Around 67 per cent of those on omalizumab could ingest some 600 mg or more of peanut protein without severe symptoms, whereas only 7 per cent of the placebo group achieved this.

Similar results were also observed for other common food allergens like nuts, milk, and eggs.

Hope for a better quality of life

“Food allergies have significant social and psychological impacts, including the threat of allergic reactions upon accidental exposures, some of which can be life-threatening,” Professor Sharon Chinthrajah from Standford University said in a statement.

The management of food allergies primarily involves avoiding allergens and using emergency treatment in the event of accidental exposure.

“A majority of people not only reached the primary endpoint of 600 mg or more of peanut, an amount that exceeds most accidental exposures, but also the majority of participants tolerated 4,000 mg of peanut protein, which is equivalent to about 15 peanuts,” said Wood.

About 69 per cent of participants could handle a total of 1,044 mg from two foods, and 47 per cent managed to tolerate the same amount of three foods.

“This is unique because we found omalizumab is effective for seven different food allergens,” Wood added.

The results prompted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve Omalizumab to treat food allergy in certain adults and children one year or older this month.

Nevertheless, patients should still carry emergency treatment as the study showed that for 14 per cent of the subjects, their tolerance remained extremely low.

“Patients impacted by food allergies face a daily threat of life-threatening reactions due to accidental exposures,” Wood said.

“The study showed that omalizumab can be a layer of protection against small, accidental exposures.”

Food allergies are estimated to affect up to 10 per cent of people in Europe.