Gene Therapy Study Protects Against Peanut Allergy

Gene Therapy Study Protects Against Peanut Allergy

A new gene therapy developed by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine could eventually prevent the life-threatening effects of peanut allergy with just a single dose, according to a new pre-clinical study.

In the study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in June 29, 2016 , Weill Cornell Medicine investigators demonstrated that one dose of a gene therapy in mice boosts the efficacy of a drug that has been proven effective against peanut allergy. Without the gene therapy, its protection against peanut allergy wears off in a matter of weeks.

Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of Genetic Medicine and the Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, announced “It appears that we’ve developed a drug that, with a single administration, might one day cure peanut allergy.” He explained further, “If we prove that it is safe and that it works in humans, it could change the way we treat allergic people.”

Peanuts are the most common food that induces fatal or near-fatal reactions in those who are allergic to them, and a cure or preventative treatment is not yet available. Peanut allergies occur when a person’s immune system overreacts to peanut proteins and produces an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which stimulates the release of inflammatory chemicals.

The drug omalizumab, is a monoclonal antibody that binds to IgE and neutralizes it, has been effective in protecting against peanut allergy, but has significant limitations. The drug is expensive, must be injected and is only effective for two to four weeks. For these reasons, Dr. Crystal states “It’s not a practical preventative treatment for peanut allergy, even though it works.”

The June 2016 study describes a new version of the drug that is effective in peanut-allergic mice with just a single dose. Adding the genetic sequence of omalizumab to a virus, and injecting the allergic mice proved to be the effective solution. Researchers found that one dose of the gene therapy prevented allergic reactions in mice that were allergic but had never had a reaction, as well as in mice that had already been exposed to peanuts and had anaphylactic reactions.

Dr. Crystal said. “If the therapy works as well in humans as in rodents, a single therapy may provide protection against allergic reactions for a lifetime.”

The technique could also be effective against other IgE-mediated allergies, such as bee sting and shellfish, he added.

Source: Weill Cornell Medicine