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Peanut allergy begone! The two companies crusading for a 'cure' in 2019

Alanna Petroff
Senior Economics Correspondent at Yahoo Finance UK

The crusade to ‘cure’ peanut allergies has been in the spotlight this week as new research showed a treatment from an American company was helping kids reduce their severe allergic reactions.

But the California-based biopharmaceutical firm Aimmune Therapeutics (AIMT) – and its drug AR101 – isn’t the only game in town. Another European company is striving to get its treatment out into the market as early as 2019.

French firm DBV Technologies, which is traded in New York (DBVT) and Paris (DBV.PA), is testing a drug designed to desensitise people with peanut allergies. Unlike the Aimmune treatment, which is consumed orally, the DBV treatment is applied to the skin like a nicotine patch. It’s called Viaskin Peanut.

“There is an urgent need for new treatments that provide a long-term [solution],” DBV’s chairman and CEO, Pierre-Henri Benhamou told Yahoo Finance UK. “Viaskin Peanut aims to safeguard children against allergic reactions from accidental peanut exposure, offering sustainable protection for active families without the need to ingest peanuts.”

Unlike Aimmune, DBV has already submitted paperwork to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hoping that the agency might approve the treatment next year. It’s planning to seek approval in Europe as well.

“We are closer obviously than [we’ve] ever been” to getting Viaskin Peanut onto the market, said Todd Green, a vice-president of medical affairs at DBV, in an interview.

“The goal is not to allow free consumption of a peanut butter sandwich,” he said. “The goal is to try to achieve a buffer, or safety margin, where people [can handle exposure to] higher doses than they were before they began therapy.”

Green said the last study demonstrated that 63% of test subjects showed improvements over a year to handling exposure to a higher dose of peanut extract.

Peanut allergies have been a growing problem in western nations, affecting about 2% of children in the US. Peanuts are blamed for the majority of food allergy deaths.

Both companies have tested their drugs on hundreds of children, with DBV focusing on treatment for those between the ages of four to 11 while Aimmune has been focusing on the four to 17 age group.

Aimmune is hoping to file its paperwork with the FDA in December and get approval next year. It expects to file its application with the European Medicines Agency in the first half of 2019.

“Based on the phase 3 [test] results, nearly eight of 10 patients who start treatment could expect to achieve a high level of desensitisation with the certainty and convenience of a once-a-day oral dose,” said Dr Daniel Adelman, an allergist, immunologist and chief medical officer at Aimmune.

Adelman said he believes Aimmune’s solution is superior to the competition.

“Research shows high levels of desensitisation can be achieved with oral immunotherapy that may not be possible with other routes, such as … through the skin,” he said.

Investors looking to bet on the success of these companies must still beware of the risks. Shares in Aimmune are down 35% in 2018. Shares in DBV are down 37%.

Aimmune stock dropped roughly 18% over three consecutive days this week after research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed some children suffered severe reactions to the treatment.

Side effects such as abdominal pain and vomiting prompted a significant number of test subjects to withdraw from the study, and 14% needed epinephrine – or EpiPens – to halt severe allergic reactions.

A spokesperson at Aimmune told Yahoo Finance UK that the children tended to be especially sensitive because they weren’t allowed to be on any other drugs on antihistamines during the trial.

“We … expect that in practice, allergists will utilise other medications, such as antihistamines, to help patients through any of the typical minor or moderate side effects early in the process and make them even more manageable than they were in the trial,” said Adelman, who contributed to the New England Journal report.

With files from Reuters