If you’ve visited a playground, park, or kindergarten classroom in the last few years, you’ve probably heard a common refrain from concerned parents: No peanuts, please.
Peanut allergies among children in Western countries have doubled in the past 10 years, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, and today in the United States, 1 in 13 children have food allergies of various kinds. Antera Therapeutics, a Boston startup, is attempting to stop allergies from developing. Its founder, Clarence Friedman, left his job as a scientist at Pfizer to attend Harvard Business School, aiming to tackle “a need that traditional pharma was not going after,” he says. Allergies, he realized, were fertile ground, and in 2014, Friedman launched Antera to create products that act as a kind of vaccine for allergens. So far, the company has raised $2 million. It has also signed up advisers like Dr. Lynda Schneider, who runs the allergy program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Most allergists agree that allergies spiked after the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines in 2000 advising parents to avoid exposing their children to allergens like peanuts, shellfish, and tree nuts before they were 3. Recent studies have demonstrated gradually introducing infants to allergens helps them avoid developing allergies.
Friedman is hoping his company can make that happen. Antera’s first product, Aralyte, is a peanut-introduction kit being used in 15 clinics in the Boston area, including those at Children’s, Mass. General, and Tufts Medical Center. It rolls out nationally later this fall.
Each kit holds a month’s worth of small vials that contain a mix of organic safflower oil, vitamin D, and a daily dose of peanut allergen that can be given to babies between 4 and 6 months old. It’s not a drug, but rather a “food for special dietary use,” one that can be mixed into a baby’s formula or breast milk. Friedman recommends the first dose be administered in the presence of a pediatrician in case an allergic reaction should occur. The company suggests an initial course of three months. A month’s worth of Aralyte is $60.
“The data shows that 24 months of consistent controlled exposure reduces the risk of allergy prevalence by 98 percent,” Friedman says, but he suggests that parents confer with their pediatricians to design a timeline. He’s working with pediatricians to get the message out about Aralyte and has signed on more than 150 clinics ahead of its national rollout.
Aralyte isn’t the only peanut-introduction kit on the market — a powder called Hello Peanut! launched last spring. But Friedman thinks that Aralyte — a liquid packaged in a single-use, disposable vial — reduces the chance for contamination, particularly for families in which someone already has a peanut allergy. Antera plans to release a multi-allergy product next year, likely targeting shellfish, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame. “We want to give parents the tools and the options to do something about their anxiety,” Friedman says.
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Janelle Nanos is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.