Human clinical trials of a world-first peanut allergy treatment will begin in Melbourne in June 2017, with researchers focussing on the molecular parts of the potent nut allergen that are needed to build tolerance, while removing the risk of a severe reaction.
The technology, which is being developed by Australian biotechnology company Aravax, is underpinned by more than 15 years of research led by respiratory physician Professor Robyn O’Hehir and her team at The Alfred and Monash University.
“The treatment uses new technology that resets the immune system so that it tolerates peanut without causing any allergic reactions,” Prof O’Hehir said.
“We identified small fragments (peptides) of peanut proteins that lab tests have shown can reprogram specific white blood cells from a peanut-allergic person without triggering anaphylaxis.”
Prof O’Hehir said that for reasons that are not entirely clear, peanut allergy is increasing world-wide.
“A successful treatment would have a global impact, and could transform the lives of thousands of children and adults.
“The goal is to protect peanut-allergic patients from anaphylactic reactions if, for example, they eat peanut in a sauce by mistake,” she said.
Aravax chief executive officer, Dr Pascal Hickey said about two-in-every-100 Australians are allergic to peanuts.
“About half of all sufferers will face a serious, potentially life-threatening reaction when they accidentally eat peanut,” Dr Hickey said.
“We want to help people around the world who suffer from peanut allergy to live stress-free lives without constantly fearing a major health event from accidental consumption.”
The research has been supported by the Australian Food Allergy Foundation, Gandel Foundation, the Alfred Hospital Trust, and the National Health and Medical Research Council. Aravax received over $4 million in seed funding from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund in 2015 to develop its novel product for the treatment of peanut allergy.
The trial is being conducted at Nucleus Network in Melbourne and CMAX Clinical Research in Adelaide.