February 11, 2020
LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Feb. 10, 2020) – When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave approval to the first treatment for life-threating peanut allergy in children, the dedication and sacrifice of many Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) scientists, supporters and research participants played a foundational role.
More than 18 years ago, ACRI pioneered the initial research into oral immune therapy for food allergies, studying egg allergies and within two years, identifying the potential to address peanut allergy through the same novel approach.
Stacie Jones, MD, director of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) Food Allergy Program and a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) physician and professor of pediatrics practicing at ACH, has led the team that studied oral immunotherapy since its beginning, working with Wesley Burks, MD, who later transferred to Duke University and is now dean of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and chief executive officer of UNC Health Care.
“This is a need that started at the bedside,” Jones said. “We began the early work, developing protocols here in Arkansas and continued that collaboration with Dr. Burks’ research program. And over time, that eventually led to the trials that helped this treatment receive FDA approval. Arkansas Children’s Research Institute played a crucial role in helping move this therapy to the clinical setting, a moment families have awaited for years.”
Last week, the FDA announced the approval of Palforzia, manufactured by Aimmune Therapeutics, Inc., a breakthrough treatment that works by desensitizing children to peanut protein over time.
With oral immunotherapy, patients take a controlled amount of peanut protein every day, as their tolerance slowly builds. Trials have shown that over time, many children’s allergic reactions are lessened by taking Palforzia, making it possible to live without the constant risk of a serious reaction to a small amount of peanut exposure.
“This is a move toward a more personalized therapy that will change many lives, remembering that oral immunotherapy is not the right treatment for all affected by peanut allergy,” Jones said.
“We do see this making a difference for children and also paving the way for other therapies, which are also currently studied at ACRI,” said Dr. Amy Scurlock, ACRI food allergy researcher and an associate professor of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine.
ACRI and UAMS scientists continue to examine potential allergy treatments, depending on patient families to participate in clinical research. These studies range from implementing oral immunotherapy for other foods to studying multi-allergen therapy.
Many of the patients Jones and collaborators have worked with at ACH began testing oral immunotherapy as elementary schoolers and now thrive in college, having less risk severe reactions because of the treatment.
“We are beyond grateful to the families and children who took a risk to be a part of the studies that led to the first FDA-approved therapy,” Jones said. “Their contribution is huge, and many of them continue on this therapy today.”
Over the next few months, physicians at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and other allergy treatment centers will begin prescribing Palforzia to patients who meet certain criteria.
For more info on Palforzia, including its risks and effectiveness, ask your allergist. More details are available in the FDA’s announcement here.
About Arkansas Children’s
Arkansas Children's, Inc. is the only healthcare system in the state solely dedicated to caring for Arkansas' 710,000 children and transforming the health of children throughout the region. The private, non-profit organization includes two pediatric hospitals, a pediatric research institute and USDA nutrition center, a philanthropic foundation, a nursery alliance, statewide clinics, and many education and outreach programs. Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) is a 336-bed, Magnet-recognized facility in Little Rock operating the state’s only Level I pediatric trauma center; the state's only burn center; the state's only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit; the state's only pediatric intensive care unit; the state’s only pediatric surgery program with Level 1 verification from the American College of Surgeons (ACS); the state’s only magnetoencephalography (MEG) system for neurosurgical planning and cutting-edge research; and the state's only nationally recognized pediatric transport program. Additionally, ACH is nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report in five pediatric subspecialties (2019-2020): Cardiology & Heart Surgery, Nephrology, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Orthopedics and Pulmonology. ACH is one of only five hospitals in the nation that have achieved Magnet Status, ACS Level 1 verification and a Beacon award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW), the first and only pediatric hospital in the Northwest Arkansas region, opened in Springdale in early 2018. ACNW operates a 24-bed inpatient unit; a surgical unit with five operating rooms; outpatient clinics offering over 20 subspecialties; diagnostic services; imaging capabilities; occupational therapy services; and Northwest Arkansas' only pediatric emergency department, equipped with 30 exam rooms. Generous philanthropic and volunteer engagement has sustained Arkansas Children's since it began as an orphanage in 1912, and today ensures the system can fundamentally transform the health of children in Arkansas and beyond. To learn more, visit archildrens.org.