The goal of the treatment is not to cure the allergy or enable children to eat peanut butter sandwiches, but to reduce the risk that an accidental exposure to trace amounts will trigger a life-threatening reaction in someone with a severe allergy, and relieve the fear and anxiety that go along with severe peanut allergies.
Doses were gradually built up every two weeks for a period of six months, before continuing on a "maintenance dose" of peanut for an additional six months.
But the fact that a majority of the AR101 group was able to tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts without symptoms is tremendously encouraging, experts say.
Interestingly, the drug was much more effective with "children and adolescents 4 to 17 years of age".
Professor George du Toit, paediatric allergy consultant at Evelina London and the study's chief investigator, said: 'Peanut allergy is extremely hard to manage for children and their families, as they have to follow a strict peanut-free diet.
Sophie Pratt, 44, from Kentish Town in north London, enrolled her six-year-old daughter Emily, who has had a peanut allergy since she was one, on the study. Compared to the placebo group, participants who took AR101 had less severe allergy symptoms. Epinephrine, used as a lifesaver for the anaphylaxis (severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions) in food allergic patients in case of accidental exposure.
Not all of the participants responded well to the trial.
Peanut allergy has doubled over the last two decades and affects about one in 50 children in the UK.
- Fewer side effects than anticipated - e.g. only six percent dropped out of the study due to gastrointestinal side effects; Also, one-third of patients completed the study with no more than mild side effects along the way. Almost 15 percent of people who took AR101 had to take injections of epinephrine to combat severe allergic reactions, and one child needed three injections of an EpiPen.
"The ability to flake off the right amount of peanut or buy a bag of peanut flour to do it is going to be fraught with potential hazards", Perkin tells Sarah Boseley of the Guardian.
Children with peanut allergies may benefit from a breakthrough treatment developed at University College Cork.
The next step is a review by the Food and Drug Administration for possible mass market availability sometime next year. The agency has granted the treatment an expedited approval process, and AR101 could become available to patients by the summer of 2019. "I have seen it happen firsthand: the sense of relief [families] get when a child becomes desensitized".