If you can eat peanuts, you’re lucky, an increasing number of Americans are allergic to them. Studies show that anywhere from 1% to 8% of children now run the risk of a having a reaction, ranging from itchiness to breathing problems.
That’s why this new patch from DBV Technologies could be so important–and why the company recently received a stellar reception on Wall Street when it made its IPO. The French company has developed a patch that could cure allergies in large numbers of people.
The Viaskin patch is based on a form of immunotherapy, where gradual exposure sensitizes sufferers to what they would normally recoil from. The size of a quarter, the plastic ring contains a membrane covered with peanut extract. Patients wear it continuously, allowing themselves to become accustomed to peanuts.
“It will be three years for peanut allergy, but at the end patients will be able to take in every kind of peanut. There will no more need to restrict their diet,” says Pierre-Henri Benhamou, CEO of DBV Technologies.
Exposing patients to small amounts of peanuts has been tried in the past, but the process is dangerous and requires a lot of supervision. The innovation with the patch is the way it delivers the peanut allergen. The extract adheres to the membrane with an electrostatic charge and is released as it comes into contact with body sweat. Kids will wear the patch on their back. Adolescents and adults will put it on their upper arms, like a nicotine patch.
The Viaskin is set to enter the final stage of clinical trials and should be on the U.S. market by 2018, Benhamou says.
It’s unclear why the peanut allergy problem is getting worse, but some reports show a 50% increase since the 1990s. It’s also not apparent why peanut allergies are more prevalent in rich countries. But the Viaskin is seen as a welcome development. In trials, volunteers received three doses, and those with the most exposure tolerated 10 times more allergen than they could previously.
Benhamou hopes it will fully cure some sufferers, while the reactions of the other half could be lessened. At the very least, fewer people will die from accidental peanut exposure.