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Is this pill the answer to severe peanut allergies?

Each year, millions of Americans have allergic reactions to food, some of which can be life-threatening. And according to Food Allergy Research and Education, one of every 70 children and one of every 160 adults is allergic to peanuts, one of the most common food allergies.

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But scientists are now one step closer to a preventative treatment against severe reactions.

A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice tested the effectiveness of pills containing a peanut protein (also called AR101) in a method known as oral immunotherapy.

Researchers recruited 29 people between 4 and 26 years in 10 U.S. cities and 26 others for a control group. All of the participants were allergic to peanuts.

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The 29 participants were each given the experimental peanut drug. Over a six-month period, their doses were increased in an attempt to slowly desensitize their allergies. Those in the control group were only administered pills filled with oat flour.

Each group was then exposed to about one and a half peanuts, part of a “food challenge.” 

Researchers found that 79 percent of the peanut pill group exhibited no reactions to the peanuts. In the control group, 81 percent had mild to moderate reactions and only 19 percent showed no reaction at all.

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Another study funded by Aimmune, the developer of the peanut pill, tested the drug on 500 allergic children between 4 and 17 years old, 400 of whom took the peanut pills. The others took a placebo drug.

The experiment, which published last month, found that when exposed to peanuts after one year, 76 percent of those taking the peanut pills did not have allergic reactions when exposed to peanuts, whereas only 8 percent of those in the control group were able to tolerate the peanuts. 

“It’s great to have patients go from managing to tolerate at most the amount of peanut protein in a 10th of a peanut without reacting, to successfully eating the equivalent of between two to four peanuts with nothing more than mild, transient symptoms, if any at all,” study author Dr. A. Wesley Burks, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, said in a February press release.

Scientists say more research needs to be conducted before the Food and Drug Administration can approve the peanut pill for clinical use, but Aimmune said it expects to submit a Biologics License Application with the FDA by the end of 2018. 

Read the new research at jaci-inpractice.org.

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