For the roughly 1.5 million children living with peanut allergies, decreasing sensitivity could one day be as easy as brushing your teeth.
That’s the plan for Intrommune, a new New York-based biotechnology company that recently acquired the rights to licence the toothpaste technology they intend to apply to food allergies.
Allergies are your immune system’s response to a substance that may not be harmful to others and the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the US. In the case of peanut allergies, some people can be so severely allergic that they have a reaction if they’re in the same room as a peanut.
And because so many with severe allergies are kids, the stigma of being sick can be a lot to handle. But what if instead of having to take a pill, all they had to do was brush their teeth as they would any other day?
“They don’t have to feel like they’re sick,” Danya Glabau, Intrommune’s director of medical affairs, told Business Insider. “They’re not doing anything different from their friends.”
Retraining the immune system
One of the best way to make these reactions less severe is to de-sensitize the person to the allergen through immunotherapy. That involves using small doses to introduce the person to whatever they’re allergic to in the hopes that they will be able to re-train their immune system to not react so strongly to the allergen.
Allergy immunotherapy is in no way a new concept. It’s been practiced in one way or another for more than a century. In the case of the toothpaste, its goal is to be delivered through the oral mucosa, or the mucous membrane that lines our mouths.
The idea with allergy immunotherapy is that in time as the dose is slowly increased, desensitization builds. But because the treatments typically need to be given to people for as long as three to five years, it can be hard to get people to stick with it and incorporate it into their daily routines.
The idea to use toothpaste to deliver the immunotherapy came from Bill Reisacher, an ear, nose and throat doctor at Weill Cornell Medical College.
“While he was brushing his teeth, his toothpaste was hitting some areas of the oral cavity that were scientifically known to help drive the desensitization process and help drive the immune system retraining process,” Glabau said. Once Reisacher realised he could merge immunotherapy treatment into a daily activity, he decided to test out the idea in respiratory allergies, like allergies to pollen or mould.
A study that shows how it works in respiratory allergies is expected to be published this month.
For now, the Intrommune is just in the beginning stages of developing the toothpaste. First, they will need to develop a peanut with a consistent makeup (that way, they know just how much of the peanut protein is going into the toothpaste). Then, they plan to get started with clinical trials in their journey toward FDA approval, starting with peanuts, but expanding out to the other top food allergies, such as soy, wheat, milk, and eggs.
Then, of course, they will need to figure out a kid-friendly flavour — right now the toothpaste comes in a mint flavour only.
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