For parents of kids with peanut allergies, a new study holds "lifesaving" hope. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times report on AR101, an experimental drug from Aimmune Therapeutics that's been shown to ease reactions in kids with peanut allergies. In the oral immunotherapy study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers gave either AR101—a powder made of peanut flour—or a placebo to 496 kids with peanut allergies between the ages of 4 and 17. The kids, who initially had allergic reactions to peanut protein in amounts no larger than 100mg, were given increasing doses of AR101 over six months, followed by six months of a "maintenance" dose. At the end, when they consumed peanut protein, nearly 70% of the kids who'd had the AR101 were able to eat at least 600mg of peanut protein without major symptoms; only 4% in the placebo group could do so.
The drug didn't work for everyone, and it's not meant to "cure" allergies, just tamp down reactions so kids aren't blindsided by a severe attack. And an NEJM editorial notes that "desensitization was not easy on the patients," with 4.3% of subjects who took AR101 experiencing severe reactions, and 11.6% withdrawing from the study due to side effects. Also worth noting, per the Times: Five of the study's authors work for Aimmune Therapeutics, which sponsored the study; the rest are in paid roles on the firm's scientific advisory board. Still, outside experts are calling AR101 "potentially lifesaving." "This is not the cure, but it is a good first step," the chief medical officer of the Food Allergy Research & Education nonprofit says. The company hopes to file for FDA approval for AR101 by year's end; a rep says it could come to market by the end of 2019. (AT's peanut powder first made headlines in February.)