An experimental patch could help desensitize people with peanut allergies, a biotech company says.

In allergies, the immune system reacts inappropriately and vigorously to the point that it can trigger inflammation in the airways that can cause breathing to stop. 

Scientists aim to desensitize that overreaction by exposing someone to a bit of the allergy provoking protein in the hopes that the body will become used to it.

In this case, researchers apply a patch containing a small amount of peanut oil to the skin.

"The idea here is you are introducing a small amount," said CBC's medical specialist Dr. Karl Kabasele. "The advantage of putting it through the skin [is] it doesn't necessarily go into your bloodstream and get through the whole body."

The goal is to cause a small amount of local reaction in the skin. If the person is later accidentally exposed to the allergy-provoking protein in food then it's hoped that a massive reaction won't occur, he said. 


The prevalence of peanut allergy in the general population as high as one per cent, researchers say. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty)

DBV Technologies, a French biotech company, is developing the patch, called Viaskin.

The company is testing if Viaskin is safe and effective at increasing the amount of peanut proteins that children and teens can consume symptom-free compared with a placebo patch, according to a description of the study on the U.S. National Institutes of Health's clinical trial registry website.

Human safety trials of the patch have started in the U.S. and Europe. But the peanut patch needs to go through many stages of testing to check if it works and to ensure the delivery system is safe before regulators approve it for sale.

Until then, Kabasele urges people with severe peanut allergies to:

  • Continue carrying an epinephrine injector.
  • Check the injectors are up to date.
  • Replace the epinephrine before it expires.

Other companies are testing drugs that aim to neutralize the large amounts of antibodies that set off severe allergic reactions.