ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — An Food and Drug Administration panel is recommending approval of the first drug — called Palforzia — to treat life-threatening peanut allergies. It's a pill that exposes the child to small amounts of peanut protein — or peanut powder — to desensitize them over a long period of time.
There currently is no FDA-approved treatment for peanut allergies.
"This is an exciting time in food allergy treatment," said Dr. Bradley Becker, a SLU Care pediatric allergy and immunology physician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. "This isn't a cure for peanut allergy — it's a way of decreasing the child's risk for having reactions and decreasing the risk for severe reactions."
"It's initiated in an allergist's office and then continued at home," Dr. Becker tells KMOX. "The dose of the peanut that the child is receiving is increased periodically until they get to what's considered a maintenance dose of the peanut product. The treatment is then continued over a year or so with maintenance doses continued long term."
The results have been pretty encouraging says Dr. Becker.
"It went from kids reacting at the equivalent of about a third of a peanut worth of peanut to not reacting at 2 or 3 full peanuts worth of peanut," said Dr. Becker. "It sounds like a small difference, but from a quality of life perspective, this could be a huge change in the safety margin for children with peanut allergies. It will hopefully also reduce their anxiety and improve their quality of life when at public functions where peanuts may be present."
But there are risks involved for the young patients.
"A lot of the reactions were mild to moderate," said Dr. Becker. "But some were more severe."
"They're going to require these children still to carry an epi-pen and to really make a best effort to avoid any kind of exposure to a lot of peanut protein," said CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook. "But it if allows them to go out and live a more normal life then it's going to be up to the parents and the physician to decide if the risk is worth it."
The full FDA is expected to make its final decision early next year.
"We here at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital hope to start this treatment within the coming year or two," said Dr. Becker. "This is a very time-consuming treatment to give to people. We need to make sure we have adequate staffing to offer this treatment."
Peanut allergies affect 1.2 million children — one out of every 50 kids.