Experimental treatment helps 2 out of 3 peanut allergy sufferers, study finds

(CNN)Sometimes, Ellis Glover would be forced to leave her friends and sit at a lunch table where no one was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

"I wanted to sit with my good, good friends, but I couldn't," the 10-year-old said. "If you're a kid and you have a food allergy, it's harder on you. You're missing out on a lot of stuff other children can have. I always want to try peanut stuff."
Mom Monica Glover said the family discovered Ellis' peanut allergy when she was about 3. The tipoff: a skin reaction around her mouth after she was given food with a small amount of peanuts in it. "We were lucky to have discovered it that way. That was a mild reaction," Glover said, and a doctor confirmed the allergy through tests.
The discovery was "distressing," Glover said. Accidental exposure to peanuts has happened, resulting in "severe stomach cramps and vomiting," she said. "Essentially, we have to live in fear all the time of Ellis being inadvertently exposed to peanuts and having a reaction that is potentially life-threatening."
    Glover seized the opportunity to participate in a study on the safety and effectiveness of an experimental treatment that could give her daughter protection against accidental exposure to peanuts. Despite the risk, it was "a gift," she said, adding that her family hoped their efforts might help "lots of other children."
    The risk paid off: Two-thirds of the kids in the study were able to eat the equivalent of two peanuts without any symptoms after following the months-long experimental treatment regimen, the researchers found.
    Ellis is one of the majority of children for whom the treatment works. "It's been a huge success," her mother said.
    The study results, published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's Annual Scientific Meeting, prove that the treatment can protect some children against accidental exposure to or ingestion of a very small amount of peanuts or peanut products.

    Not a cure

    Dr. Brian Vickery, the study's lead author, director of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Food Allergy Program and an associate professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, cautioned that "it's not a cure."
    "It does not make the allergy to go away," Vickery said. "The purpose is not to get them to be no longer peanut allergic and allow them to eat whatever they want."
    Still, that's no small accomplishment, he said. There are no US Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment options for food allergies of any kind or peanut allergy in particular, which, along with tree nut allergy, affects an estimated 3 million Americans or more.
    Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., the California-based biopharmaceutical company that made the experimental product, will be submitting an application for marketing approval to the FDA in December, and the FDA has designated the treatment as worthy of an expedited approval process.
    "I'm telling patients when I see them that my hope is that patients will have access by late next summer, something like that," Vickery said. He added that although the study proved the treatment's effectiveness and safety only in children, adults would probably benefit in the same way.

    How the study worked

    To test the experimental therapy, 66 research centers in 10 countries recruited 551 participants who ranged in age from 4 to 55 and who all had a peanut allergy. Most -- 499 participants -- were between the ages of 4 and 17.
    The treatment, which comes in powder-filled capsules, is an oral immunotherapy, and the concept is "treating an allergy by gradually exposing people to the very same thing they're allergic to," Vickery said. Essentially, the treatment is a peanut powder.
    Ellis participated in the study at the Pediatric Clinical Research Unit at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, which was overseen by Dr. Stacie M. Jones, a professor of pediatrics and chief of allergy and immunology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children's Hospital.
    Ellis and Monica Glover in the Pediatric Clinical Research Unit at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.