A private pediatric clinic offering Peanut Allergy services in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge closes its doors to new patients following the release of Palforzia. The new drug, available on the NHS, used to treat peanut allergies and is already changing the lives of many. Approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in January 2020, Palforzia is ‘the first and only drug to help reduce allergic reactions to peanuts for children aged 4 to 17, and thousands of children and young people are already benefiting from the treatment.
Palforzia is the worlds first and only approved peanut allergy drugs and the parent of the first patient to try Palforzia, Kate Turner claims the medication saved her childs life. She told the BBC, “The medication saved my child’s life…I can’t tell you the weight that was lifted off our family’s shoulders.”
With peanut allergies affecting ‘1 in 50 children in the UK only’ and being ‘one of the most common causes of food-related deaths‘, Palforzia aims to provide patients with some tolerance to the peanut protein so that fatal reactions due to accidental exposure can be avoided.
The drug, which is administrated orally and is available both in capsules and sachets, ‘does not treat the symptoms of peanut allergy and must not be taken during an allergic reaction’ (https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/overview/palforzia-epar-medicine-overview_en.pdf ) but it works according to the principle of immunotherapy as it aims to reduce the severity of the allergic reaction i.e. desensitization ‘by gradually increasing the body’s ability to tolerate small amounts of peanut’ (ibidem).
We interviewed Dr Helen Evans-Howells who told us: “I have been involved in running the Palforzia clinics in Southampton Children’s Hospital for around a year and I have witnessed how Palforzia has changed the life of many children and young people. By the end of treatment, our patients have all been able to tolerate two peanut M&M’s a day without symptoms”.
In addressing the question of public fundings, Dr Evans-Howells explained, “Whilst Palforzia is licenced and has been approved by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), very few NHS centres currently offer it due to the time and staff needed to safely run these clinics. This is a travesty but reflects how underfunded allergy services are. Many patients wait in excess of a year with an initial appointment, with waiting times stretching to 3 years in Northern Ireland and some parts of Wales!”.
Closing private clinics on the assumption that the service is now available through the NHS is quite utopian as the public health system does not dispose of the same resources everywhere across the country.
Furthermore, if physical health wasn’t a good enough reason to fund research on food allergies, the often overlooked psychological impact suffered by children should suffice. A 2017 study has found that ‘food allergy appears to be associated with increased symptoms of social anxiety and higher levels of anxiety overall in ethnic minority children of lower socioeconomic status’. According to ClevelandClinic, nearly 6 million children have food allergies in the United States only and about one-third of them ‘experienced bullying because of their medical condition’.
Considering that sociality often revolves around the consumption of food, the advantages that derive from an increased availability of drugs such as Palforzia are of the psychological kind as well. As it has been proven, prohibiting the risk of death associated with food allergies helps children (and their parents) experience social circumstances in a more comfortable way and reduces children’s likelihood to become targets for bullies.
Users have claimed that although the therapy is quite strict, in most cases it also works smoothly. As Dr Evans-Howells confirms, the most common side effects include ‘itchy mouth, stomach ache and vomiting, [but] these symptoms usually settle with antihistamine medications and are generally short lived’. Several families across the UK and the US have shared their “Palforzia journey” on social media, and those photos of smiling kids holding packets of M&Ms as the trophies for their personal battles express more gratitude than any words.