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US Approves Asthma Drug to Treat Food Allergies

The U.S. food and drug agency has approved a medication already used to treat the breathing condition asthma to treat people for food allergies.
The U.S. food and drug agency has approved a medication already used to treat the breathing condition asthma to treat people for food allergies.
US Approves Asthma Drug to Treat Food Allergies
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

The U.S. food and drug agency has approved a medication already used to treat the breathing condition asthma to treat people for food allergies.

On February 16, the United States Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) approved Xolair for a new use. Xolair has become the first medication approved by the FDA to reduce allergic reactions caused by food allergies.

Xolair is the brand name, or commercial name, for the drug omalizumab.

Many people who suffer from allergies — and their families —worry about exposure to things that cause allergic reactions. They might avoid eating at restaurants. They also might avoid social situations in which they might come into contact with something that causes their allergy.

Dr. Robert Wood is director of the pediatric allergy division at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. The FDA based its decision on research that Wood led. And the National Institutes of Health supported the allergy study.

One hundred sixty-eight people with allergies to peanuts and at least two other foods took part in the study. It found that 68 percent of the people injected with Xolair were able to have about 600 milligrams of peanut protein without serious problems. That number compares to only six percent of those who received an inactive substance instead of the drug.

The results of the study were similar for other allergens, or things that commonly cause allergies, such as tree nuts, milk, eggs, and wheat. Full results from the study are expected to be presented at a meeting and released in a peer-reviewed publication in the near future.

Wood said: “To have this protection is going to be life changing.”

Wood estimated that 25 to 50 percent of people with food allergies, especially children and young adults, would choose to use Xolair.

Patients as young as one year of age with food allergies can take the drug by injection every two to four weeks. This depends on their weight and their body’s response to allergens.

People who use Xolair must continue to avoid the foods that cause allergic reactions. These foods are often peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, milk products, and eggs. However, the medication appears to permit exposure to higher amounts of allergy-causing foods without causing major reactions.

Until now, doctors have used the drug to treat food allergies although that has not been its officially approved use, said Dr. Ruchi Gupta. Such a second use for a drug is called “off-label." Gupta is director of the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research at Northwestern University in Chicago. She welcomed full approval of the product.

Xolair works by blocking the body’s natural response to allergens. It is known as a monoclonal antibody. The FDA first approved the drug in 2003. It is used to treat asthma, growths in the nose, and long-term skin problems known as chronic hives.

Swiss drug companies Novartis and Roche produce Xolair, and it is distributed by a part of Roche, called Genentech.

The most common side effects of Xolair are injection site reactions and high body temperatures. However, the FDA noted that the drug has also caused joint pain, rash, infections, malignancies, and abnormal laboratory tests.

Xolair also comes with a warning. The treatment itself can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that causes breathing and blood pressure problems. For that reason, the treatment must be started in a health care center with equipment that can deal with such emergencies. In addition, the drug is not approved as an emergency treatment for allergic reactions.

Genentech says Xolair is expected to cost about $2,900 a month for children and $5,000 a month for adults. The company said patients usually pay less because their health insurance often pays most of the cost of many drugs.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report. I’m Anna Matteo.

JoNel Aleccia reported this story for Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Words in This Story

asthma –n. a long-term condition involving problems with breathing

allergy –n. a strong reaction to a substance that does not normally cause a reaction in most people

commercial –adj. related to business and aimed at making a profit

exposure --n. an incident in which a person is in the presence of some substance and comes in contact with it or breathes it in

peer-reviewed –adj. research that has undergone a process of being studied by independent professionals of similar knowledge who judge it to be up to the level required by a publication

site –n. an exact place such as a place on the body where an injection is made

rash –n. a skin condition that involves pain, swelling, redness or itchiness

distribute –v. to provide a produce to businesses which then sell it for use by the public

malignancy –n. a growth that is the product of disease or cancer

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