The parents of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died from a severe allergic reaction to sesame found in a Pret a Manger sandwich in 2016, have set up a clinical trial to help people with food allergies build up a tolerance using everyday foods.
Through oral immunotherapy (OIT) the ‘Natasha Trial’ will investigate whether people can treat their food allergies by consuming widely available foods, such as peanut and milk-based products, in small quantities under medical supervision.
OIT is a medical treatment where a patient trains their body’s immune system to not see certain foods as a threat by consuming foods they are allergic to in small quantities, which are increased gradually over time.
This type of treatment is not yet offered widely on the NHS, despite trials from the past 15 years showing its success in approximately 80% of patients with cow’s milk, peanut and egg allergies.
In total, 216 people will be recruited for the trial. To take part, they must be between 3 and 23 years old and have a cow’s milk allergy, or aged 6 to 23, suffering from a peanut allergy.
Those taking part will begin with a year-long desensitisation period and will be monitored for a further two years to assess progress.
Current advice for people with allergies in the UK is to avoid the food they are allergic to and to use adrenaline autoinjectors if they have a risk of anaphylaxis. The Natasha Trial aims to offer both a longer-term solution for people living with food allergies and a more cost-effective avenue for the NHS.
The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation (NARF) is funding the £2.2 million three-year long oral immunotherapy trial, and it will be led by the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation and the University of Southampton.
Syed 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.”
The university is also partnering with Imperial College London and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Newcastle University and Sheffield Children’s Hospital on the project.
Co-Chief Investigator Dr Paul Turner, Reader in Paediatric Allergy & Clinical Immunology at Imperial College London said: “This study heralds a new era for the active treatment of food allergy. For too long, we have told people just to avoid the food they are allergic to – that is not a treatment, and food-allergic people and their families deserve better.”
Several major food companies including Lidl, Leon, KFC, Just Eat, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Costa, Pret a Manger, Burger King, and Greggs have collectively helped to raise money for the trial.
Immunotherapy treatments are not new – in December 2020, a Nestlé-own brand treatment known as Palforzia was offered through NHS England to treat children with an allergy to peanuts.
The Natasha Trial differs in that it uses ‘everyday foods’ as a way of treating allergies instead of costly pharmaceuticals, which makes life-long treatment for allergy sufferers more affordable and accessible, according to NARF.
If the trial is successful, it is hoped OIT using popular foods could become an approved treatment for people with severe food allergies on the NHS.
Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, Natasha’s father, said in a statement: “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 eventually any number of foods or ingredients.
“The study aims to plug the current oral immunotherapy research gap by proving that ‘everyday foods’ rather than pharmaceutical drugs can be used as a practical treatment for children and young adults with allergies. 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 relying on expensive pharmaceutical products.”
The trial is the latest action taken by the family in the aftermath of daughter Natasha’s death in 2016. In October 2021, ‘Natasha’s Law’ came into effect following an extensive campaign from the family. It requires all food companies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to label all pre-packed items that are made on site with a full ingredient list, including any of the present 14 allergens.
Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, Natasha’s mother, 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 this huge project which is very close to our hearts, the first Natasha Trial.”