Breakthrough drug offers hope for those who suffer from peanut allergies

Korin Miller

Peanut allergies can be life-threatening and understandably terrifying for people who suffer from them. Now there’s a drug ready for FDA approval that may help.

It’s called AR101, and the results of a new clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine are promising. For the study, 551 participants with peanut allergies were given either a placebo or AR101 for six months, followed by six months of maintenance therapy. After that time, two-thirds of the 372 people who were treated with AR101 were able to have 600 mgs of peanut protein (about two peanuts) without having an allergic reaction. Only 4 percent of the participants who were given a placebo were able to have 600 milligrams of peanut protein without having a reaction.

It’s worth noting that not everyone had great results: A little more than 4 percent of the participants who received AR101 had a severe reaction, and 20 percent of them dropped out of the study (more than half cited adverse reactions). Nearly 15 percent of people who took AR101 had to take injections of epinephrine to combat severe allergic reactions, and one child needed three injections of an EpiPen. Only 6.5 percent of those who took the placebo needed an epinephrine injection.

AR101 is described as a “peanut-derived investigational biologic oral immunotherapy drug,” but it’s actually just defatted peanut flour that’s put into a capsule, Jamie Alan, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This has been around in the diet community for a while,” she says, noting that it’s marketed under the name PB2.

By giving people with peanut allergies small amounts of peanut flour, “you’re trying to desensitize them to their allergy,” Alan explains. “Removing the fat from the peanut butter allows you to have more control over the total amount of antigen that’s present.”

The way this works is similar to the concept behind allergy shots, Alan says: By exposing someone to very small loses of an antigen, “it eventually shifts your immune system and causes it to make less of a pro-inflammatory compound when you’re exposed to an allergen.”

Still, “it is not meant to be a cure but [instead act as] an extra layer of protection,” Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist/immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Parikh calls the drug “promising in that by making patients less reactive they are less likely to have a life-threatening reaction.” She adds, “Up until now allergic patients had to avoid the allergen and hope for the best.”

Unfortunately, it’s not known why this drug may work for some people and not others, Gregory Rosner, MD, an allergist/immunologist with ENT & Allergy Associates, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. However, there is potential for a greatly improved quality of life. “Young patients diagnosed with a peanut allergy and their parents have to deal with constant fear that an inadvertent exposure to peanuts could potentially trigger a life-threatening reaction,” Rosner says. “The ability of this treatment to potentially minimize that risk and bring peace of mind to these patients and their families is outstanding.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day.