An experimental skin patch called Viaskin is offering hope in the treatment of peanut allergy in highly allergic toddlers, potentially enabling their bodies to handle accidental exposure. Peanut allergy is a common and dangerous food allergy without a known cure. The only existing treatment is a special peanut powder designed for children aged 4 and older. However, the Viaskin patch aims to deliver a similar treatment through the skin. In a significant study involving children aged 1 to 3, researchers discovered that the patch helped those who were unable to tolerate even a small amount of peanuts to eventually consume a few safely.
Peanut allergy affects approximately 2% of children in the United States, with some being severely allergic. Even the tiniest trace of peanuts can trigger life-threatening reactions. The immune system reacts excessively to foods containing peanuts, leading to symptoms such as hives, wheezing, and more severe complications. While some children outgrow the allergy, the majority must avoid peanuts for life and carry emergency medication in case of accidental ingestion.
The Viaskin patch, coated with a small amount of peanut protein, is applied to the skin. Toddlers wear the patch daily between their shoulder blades, preventing them from removing it. In the study, 362 toddlers with peanut allergies underwent initial testing to determine their tolerance to peanut protein. They were then randomly assigned to use either the Viaskin patch or a placebo patch.
After a year of treatment, researchers concluded that two-thirds of the toddlers using the real patch could safely consume more peanuts, equivalent to three to four peanuts. In comparison, approximately a third of those given the placebo patches exhibited the same tolerance.
Regarding safety, four recipients of the Viaskin patch experienced an allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which was deemed to be related to the patch. Among them, three were successfully treated with epinephrine, while one participant withdrew from the study. Notably, accidental consumption of peanut-containing foods during the study resulted in fewer allergic reactions among the Viaskin users compared to those wearing the placebo patches. The most common side effect reported was skin irritation at the patch application site.
Although the findings hold promise, it is premature to directly compare oral and skin treatments for peanut allergies. Data suggests that each approach may have distinct advantages and disadvantages. DBV Technologies, the company behind the Viaskin patch, has encountered challenges in bringing the patch to market.
The FDA has requested additional safety data specifically for toddlers, prompting the company to conduct further studies to assess the long-term treatment effects. Moreover, ongoing research aims to evaluate the patch’s efficacy in older children. These results are encouraging and offer a glimpse of potential treatment options for food allergies in the future.