Peanut allergy treatment receives $15m funding boost

Tuesday, 04 October, 2016

A $15 million venture capital funding round will advance the development of a promising new treatment for peanut allergy in children.

The therapy, which is being developed by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI), will allow children with peanut allergy to incorporate peanut and peanut products as a regular part of their diet. The novel action, discovered and developed by MCRI’s Professor Mimi Tang, is in the combination of the two components: peanut allergen and a specific probiotic which has been shown in clinical trials to induce ‘tolerance’ to peanut. This approach has the potential to be used to treat other common food allergies, such as allergies to milk, egg, shellfish and other nuts.

Australian life sciences and technology venture capital firm OneVentures will invest $8 million in Probiotic Therapies for Allergy (ProTA), the company established to commercialise the technology in peanut allergy, and explore other indications. The treatment is already attracting the attention of global pharmaceutical companies, and negotiations are underway to secure an additional $7 million from strategic investors and partners of OneVentures.

“Australian research is leading the way with a much needed cure for peanut and other food allergies. This deal embodies exactly what the government’s innovation agenda is about — providing the capital, skills and international expertise to help translate promising Australian developments into commercial products that address large global needs,” said Dr Paul Kelly, managing partner of OneVentures and head of the LifeSciences team.

Food allergies have increased 350% over the past 20 years, with peanut allergy increasing at the greatest rate. Food allergy now affects approximately 250 million people worldwide. Peanut allergy is particularly worrying because it is the most common cause of fatality due to food-induced anaphylaxis.

In a study completed by MCRI in January 2015, 62 peanut allergic children were either given a dose of a probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, together with peanut protein in increasing amounts, or a placebo over 18 months to assess whether children would become tolerant to peanut.

82% of children who received the probiotic-peanut therapy were able to tolerate up to 16 peanuts after the treatment had finished, compared with 4% of children who received the placebo. A further multicentre study is underway, across three Australian sites, to see if the therapy can produce a longer term tolerance of up to 12 weeks.

“Based on the results we have seen to date, if nine children were given probiotic and peanut therapy, seven would benefit. This is a very promising result, and we look forward to seeing further evidence from the current trial and progressing the development of this approach so that all children with peanut allergy can access this treatment,” said Professor Mimi Tang.

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