Food allergies affect up to 8 percent of U.S. children and 30 percent of adults.

They are pervasive and expensive: Food allergies cost $25 billion a year with most of that amount ($20 billion) being paid by the families.

Recent studies are showing that oral immunology may be an effective treatment.

New Treatment, Faster Results

For recent studies, people with food allergies have been given small but increasing amounts of an allergen in order to desensitize them. This process is called oral immunotherapy, or OIT. For these studies, it has been shown that the process is successful, but it can take many rounds of OIT over several years to achieve the results. A new study shows that by combining standard desensitization of five food allergies with an antibody-based medication called omalizumab, it may be possible to treat food allergies in a shorter time frame: months instead of years.

An allergic response occurs when the immune system releases IgE antibodies, which treat the allergen like an invading pathogen. Omalizumab is a manufactured antibody that adheres to IgE and reduces the severity of the immune reaction. In this new trial, researchers gave 25 children and adults eight weeks of omalizumab combined with OIT in a hospital setting. Emergency care was available at all times. After eight weeks, the children experienced rapid oral desensitization with up to five food allergens. Reactions dropped by 70 percent after 6 months.

Further Research

Senior author Kari Nadeau emphasized that the results were preliminary but encouraging. “In this Phase 1 safety study, we have shown that the study participants allergic to multiple foods were safely and rapidly desensitized to up to five food allergens simultaneously, using an OIT protocol with concomitant treatment with omalizumab,” she said. “This is the first published study on using multiple-OIT and omalizumab in combination. These findings are particularly relevant considering the already high, and likely growing, number of food-allergic participants who are sensitized to more than one food allergen.”

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