New treatment offers hope to people with peanut allergies

For the Ng family, travel once seemed out of reach.

Eating out while traveling carried great risk for their daughter, Stella, who faced a severe allergy to peanuts.

“When she was 18 months old, the first doctor we met was like, ‘Oh, no — this is for life,’” recalled Ju Lee Ng, Stella’s mom.

However, things changed after Stella participated in a clinical trial in Australia that put her peanut allergy into remission.

“Once she achieved remission, shortly after, we booked a holiday to Thailand. It was one of the countries we had been avoiding previously,” Ng said. “Just, in general, Thai cuisine has a lot of peanuts in their food — but we were able to just travel and not have the fear.”

How did that happen?

Prota — an Australian biotech company — developed an oral treatment called “PRT120.” It administers doses of peanut protein. In a clinical trial on children under the age of 10, after 18 months, researchers found 23% of the children became far less sensitive to peanuts.

Beyond that, more than half — 51% — achieved remission of their peanut allergy.

“What we mean by remission is we can’t show a clinical evidence of peanut allergy. These children pass a standard diagnostic peanut challenge after stopping treatment for 8 weeks,” said Dr. Mimi Tang, CEO of Prota and an allergy specialist at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. She is also the Head of Allergy Immunology Research group at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, which led the study.

Dr. Tang said “remission” translates into being able to eat a bag of peanut M&M’s and, in the future, the treatment could possibly be applied to other food allergies.

“This approach could certainly be applied to other food allergies — what would need to be developed, however, is the right dosing schedule,” Dr. Tang said.

The company hopes to bring a clinical trial next to the U.S.

About 32 million Americans have a food allergy. Aside from peanuts, the most common are milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soy.

“We really need, have a lot of work to do, to identify these patients who will respond well to therapy,” said Dr. Drew Bird of the Division of Allergy Immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

He was not involved in the Prota clinical trial for peanut allergies but studied the findings, which have been published in The Lancet medical journal.

“What the investigators also reported, though, which is very encouraging, is that the health-related quality of life of patients was quite improved, especially in those who had that long-lasting benefit,” Dr. Bird said.

Stella has been in remission from her peanut allergy for several years now.

“Sometimes at school, kids bring in cupcakes and my teacher would always check if there was a peanut ingredient in it,” she said. “But now that I don’t have to worry too much about it, I can eat freely.”

It also gives her mom, Ju Lee, peace of mind.

“It’s like a COVID booster,” she said, “but she’s got a ‘peanut booster.’”

By Maya Rodriguez, Scripps National Desk