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New hope for kids with severe food allergies

One of the new class of biologics may have a pivotal role in desensitising children with severe food allergies, US researchers say.

That was the conclusion after their placebo-controlled study showed that a preliminary short course of the monoclonal antibody, omalizumab (Xolair) improved the safety and efficacy of oral immunotherapy in children with multiple severe Ig-E mediated food allergies.

Admittedly the study was small, involving only 48 children aged 4-15 years, and only looked at children with Ig-E mediated allergies to multiple foods but the implications, the study authors say are important.

These patients are a highly atopic population who are at risk of near-fatal or fatal food allergic reactions to multiple foods. There is plenty of evidence that oral immunotherapy is effective for single food desensitisation. However there has been little proof that immunotherapy works in children with allergies to multiple foods, and these are the ones more likely to accidentally ingest a food that may trigger anaphylaxis. Children with multiple food allergies are also far more likely to be unable to tolerate the oral immunotherapy.

So in this phase 2 trial, those children in the treatment group were given omalizumab for eight weeks before commencing oral immunotherapy against a range of allergens including peanuts, cows milk and several different tree nuts. Outcomes were assessed by a food challenge at week 36 that looked at the ability to tolerate 2g of the trigger food.

At the 36 week mark, 83% of children could now tolerate the allergenic food in the omalizumab-primed group compared with only 33% in the placebo group.  It also appeared that omalizumab was well-tolerated with no serious or severe adverse events occurring in those who received it.

The impact of these findings on the lives of affected children should not be underestimated, the researchers suggest in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

“[The] ability to increase an individual’s threshold of food ingestion to a serving of protein [for example] is important for their nutrition and overall quality of life,” they wrote.

The study had its limitations, namely it remains unknown if the desensitisation was sustained but the finding that the anti-IgE cover made the oral immunotherapy more tolerable and therefore more effective is a major though incremental advance in the management of this increasingly prevalent condition.


Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Published Online Dec 11, 2017