A new study led by the University of Southampton aims to prove that commonly available peanut and milk products taken under medical supervision can be used as a treatment for people living with food allergies.
The three-year oral immunotherapy (OIT) trial will be the first major study funded by The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, the charity set up by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died aged 15 from a severe food allergic reaction.
It aims to show that everyday foods containing peanut or milk, which are taken carefully according to a standardised protocol under medical supervision, can be used as an alternative to expensive pharmaceutical drugs to desensitise patients.
If successful, participants with persistent food allergy will be enabled to live lives where they no longer have to avoid popular foods which might contain small amounts of allergens due to production, and also be able to eat popular foods like cakes, curries and pizza with their friends.
The £2.2m trial will be funded by a gift to the University of Southampton from The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation. Natasha’s Foundation has received generous donations from its Research Founding Partners and fundraising and donations from Natasha’s Army of supporters.
The Research Founding Partners are a consortium of food businesses: Greggs, Tesco, Just Eat, Co-op, Morrisons, KFC, Bakkavor, Sainsbury’s, Bidfood, Costa Coffee, Elior UK, Burger King®, Pret A Manger, Lidl, Leon, Cooplands, Uber Eats.
The trial will be led by researchers at the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, partnering with Imperial College London (both World Allergy Organisation Centres of Excellence) together with University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Newcastle University and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
The first “Natasha Clinical Trial” will use “everyday foods” instead of expensive pharmaceuticals for OIT. This could open up potential life-long treatment for hundreds of thousands of people living with allergies, at a fraction of the cost to the NHS.
The study will recruit a total of 216 people between the ages of three and 23 with food allergy to cow’s milk and aged six and 23 with food allergy to peanut.
Following an initial 12 months of desensitisation (carried out according to a standardised protocol under strict medical supervision), participants will be monitored for a further two years in order to report on longer-term safety and cost-effectiveness.
The aim is to bring the level of evidence to a point where OIT using commercially available foods could be approved for use in the NHS to treat food-allergic patients most at risk of anaphylaxis.
Natasha’s parents Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, who were both awarded OBEs this year for their services to charity and people with allergies, officially announced the trial.
Tanya said: “We have been determined that Natasha’s death should not be in vain. Following the successful implementation of Natasha’s Law, which has brought new ingredient and allergen labelling, we are delighted to announce the first Natasha Clinical Trial.”
Nadim said: “This is a major first step in our mission to make food allergies history. The aim is to save lives and prevent serious hospitalisations by offering lifelong protection against severe allergic reactions to foods. We are delighted that a consortium of food businesses are supporting our work with donations that will help fund this study.
“The study aims to plug the current oral immunotherapy research gap by proving that everyday foods can be used as a practical treatment for children and young adults with allergies at a fraction of the cost to the NHS.
“If successful, this will empower the NHS to provide cost-effective treatments for people living with food allergies through oral immunotherapy. It would enable people, once desensitised under clinical supervision, to control their own lives and stay allergy safe using shop bought foods rather than expensive pharmaceutical products.”
Professor Hasan Arshad, Professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of Southampton, said: “This project presents a unique opportunity to establish immunotherapy as a practical treatment that will allow people with food allergies to live a normal life. I am immensely proud that the University of Southampton will be leading this trial in collaboration with an elite group of partner universities and clinical allergy centres.”