Recently, the first drug ever to help treat food allergies was approved by the FDA and is about to be offered here in Pittsburgh.
Thirteen-year-old Beau Brush has to think about his peanut allergy every time he eats but not as much anymore. Thanks to the new drug, Palforzia, Brush is no longer as sensitive to peanuts.
“When I was 4 or 5,” Beau said, “I had accidentally eaten some peanut food and had a major reaction. I vomited and was very sick.”
His mother, Ali Brush, had to take him to the emergency room and didn’t want to go through that again. So Beau was enrolled in the Palforzia trial at UPMC Children’s Hospital, knowing it wouldn’t cure his allergy but could lessen it.
“Someday, when he’s off at college or something like that and accidentally picks up a peanut butter brownie, he’s going to be so much less likely to have a life-threatening reaction,” said Ali.
Palforzia is made up of peanut protein and is sprinkled onto food and eaten while under a doctor’s care because it can cause an allergic reaction. The dosage increases every two weeks over a six-month period.
Dr. Christina Ciaccio was part of the drug study.
“We’re tricking the immune system to learn how to tolerate it, and we can get kids to a point where they’re eating a peanut’s worth of peanut protein every single day.”
Dr. Hey Chong, director of Allergy and Immunology at UPMC Children’s Hospital, says before taking Palforzia, one peanut caused anaphylaxis in Beau. But by the end, he could tolerate the equivalent of 10 peanuts.
“I think it’s so exciting that this is the first and only FDA approved treatment because there’s really no other. There’s no other treatment. For years, we would just say avoid it, carry your EpiPen,” Dr. Chong said.
Beau still carries his EpiPen and eats seven Reese’s Pieces daily to maintain his peanut tolerance. But he feels better knowing he won’t have a bad reaction if he accidentally eats peanuts.
“It feels very good because I’m helping other kids overcome their allergies that their parents might be very worried about,” said Beau.
“It takes time, it takes dedication. It takes brave kids who are willing to do this, that makes it so that this can become something that’s now finally FDA approved,” said Dr. Chong.
UPMC Children’s Hospital and a couple of other allergy doctors around the region are just starting to offer Palforzia for kids ages 4-17.
Children’s is also looking for peanut-allergic kids ages 1-4 to participate in another trial.