Experimental Ragweed Therapy Offers Allergy Sufferers Longer Relief with Fewer Shots
Americans accustomed to the seasonal misery of sneezing, runny noses and itchy, watery eyes caused by ragweed pollen may one day benefit from an experimental allergy treatment that not only requires fewer injections than standard immunotherapy, but also leads to a marked reduction in symptoms that persists for at least a year after therapy has stopped.
Schmalfeldt: Americans accustomed to the seasonal misery of sneezing, runny noses and itchy, watery eyes caused by ragweed pollen may one day benefit from an experimental allergy treatment that not only requires fewer injections than standard immunotherapy, but also leads to a marked reduction in symptoms that persists for at least a year after therapy has stopped. That's the upshot of a study published in the October 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The research was sponsored by the Immune Tolerance Network and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The study initially involved 25 adult volunteers, aged 23 to 69, with a history of seasonal allergic rhinitis, positive skin test reactions to ragweed pollen, and immediate reaction when nasally challenged with ragweed. Dr. Marshall Plaut, chief of the Allergic Mechanisms section in the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at the NIAID, talked about some of the advantages of this investigational treatment.
Plaut: Well, the major benefit to patients if this were to be used for ragweed allergy would be that they would get long-lasting relief with, apparently, minimal adverse events and get very impressive and long-lasting symptom relief. I mean, that's based on the study with its shortcomings. But if the study proves to be true, that is, if this were really true with a much larger group of patients, and if the safety concerns — which are very hard to evaluate in only 25 people — are confirmed, then those would be the advantages.
Schmalfeldt: Dr. Plaut said if these preliminary results are borne out in further larger studies, there could be good news for other types of allergy sufferers as well.
Plaut: The advantages beyond that are that it gives the thought there may be other approaches to treat diseases for which we currently have no treatment. For example, food allergy, where we don't have an allergy immunotherapy because the likelihood of severe reaction to the injections is much too high to warrant that approach. If this approach proved to be successful in that situation, then all of a sudden we would have a therapy where now we have nothing to offer patients.
Schmalfeldt: As many as 40 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies caused by airborne pollens produced by grasses, trees and weeds. Most are successfully treated with antihistamines or nasal corticosteroids. However, when people with allergies do not respond to these treatments or experience severe symptoms, the next therapeutic option is allergen immunotherapy — a course of subcutaneous injections of the allergen. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.