Peanut allergy patch for toddlers shows promise, study finds

Peanut allergy patch for toddlers shows promise, study finds


An experimental skin patch to help treat toddlers who are highly allergic to peanuts is showing promise, according to a new study.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday, the trial’s findings show the patch, named Viaskin, helped kids ages 1 to 3 who initially couldn’t tolerate even a small fraction of a peanut to eventually be able to eat a few safely.

If additional testing supports these results, “this would fill a huge unmet need,” Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, an allergist at Children’s Hospital Colorado who helped lead the study, told The Associated Press

Peanut allergy is one of the most common and dangerous food allergies, and there is no cure. Parents of allergic tots are constantly on guard against exposures that can lead to emergency room visits.

About 2% of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts, some so severely that even a tiny amount can cause a life-threatening reaction. Their immune system overreacts to peanut-containing foods, triggering an inflammatory cascade that causes symptoms like hives, wheezing or worse, anaphylaxis, an extreme reaction that disrupts breathing and causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, which can in some cases even be fatal.

Some kids outgrow the allergy, but in 70% to 80% of cases it persists into adulthood. Most must avoid peanuts for life and carry rescue medicine like an EpiPen in case they accidentally ingest some.

In the new study, 362 toddlers with peanut allergy were tested to determine their peanut protein tolerance and then were randomly assigned to use either the Viaskin patch or a placebo patch.

The Viaskin patch, worn daily between the shoulder blades, is coated with a small amount of peanut protein that absorbs into the skin. 

After a year of treatment, the toddlers were tested again. About two-thirds of those who used the real patch could safely ingest the equivalent of three to four peanuts, researchers concluded. About one-third of those given the placebo patches also showed improvement, likely due to some children outgrowing the allergy, Greenhawt said. 

Four Viaskin patch recipients experienced an allergic reaction that was deemed related to the patch, but the most common side effect included skin irritation at the patch site.

Currently, the only treatment for children with a peanut allergy is for children ages 4 to 17 and involves consuming a special peanut powder daily to help protect against severe reaction. The oral immunotherapy, named Palforzia, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020. 

Over the past 20 years, the study authors note, the prevalence of peanut allergies among children in the U.S., Canada and Europe has significantly increased. Other research has led medical experts to recommend parents could reduce the risk by introducing small amounts of peanut products into a baby’s diet at an early age.

“Peanut allergy can be very substantially reduced if peanut is introduced into the diet as early as 4 to 6 months of age,” Dr. Alkis Togias, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wrote in an editorial accompanying the new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. But he acknowledged “implementation is lagging” and that questions persist about the best ways to carry this out.

The latest study results, Togias wrote, “are very good news for toddlers and their families as the next step toward a future with more treatments for food allergies.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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