Steve thinks confidence in food allergy treatments is justified
It may be a while away yet, but Aimmune’s Senior Director of Medical Affairs and Global Head of Medical Affairs, Allergy, Steve Tilles, is “absolutely” convinced there will be a cure for food allergies one day. Why so bullish? Simply, he says, because there is greater will, knowledge and resources being focused in that direction than at any time in his 30-year career in the field. And specifically, because our understanding of what actually causes food allergies has never been greater, which in turn is sparking an increasing level of research into potential treatments.
"Food allergy is a common disease that’s rapidly increasing in prevalence for reasons that remain unknown," Steve says. "When I started out in clinical practice as a board-certified allergist and immunologist, I was maybe seeing one peanut allergic patient a week. By the time I left three years ago, it was four or five each day.
"There’s no doubt in my mind that potential food allergy treatments are now the number one unmet need in the allergy area. But there’s also no doubt that more effort is being channelled into food allergy research than ever before. Potential food allergy treatments are gaining a greater focus, and I’m confident that it’s just the start."
There are two specific reasons for Steve’s optimism. First is his experience in asthma. It’s something he knows a thing or two about – he’s asthmatic himself, and the death of an aunt from a severe asthma attack when he was just eight years old fuelled an interest in allergies that led to a career spanning 23 years of clinical practice as a board-certified allergist and immunologist, numerous senior academic posts, more than 140 clinical trials as a principal investigator and more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed publications.
"The lessons learned on the asthma journey are helpful in food allergy research," he says. "Applying innovation such as biologic therapies to asthma was a new area then, and it took a while for the scientific and pharmaceutical communities to understand how best to help patients with these tools. By learning those lessons, we’re giving ourselves a head start with food allergy."
The second reason is that areas of research not previously understood to be linked to food allergies are showing increasing promise and may even be key to a future solution. For example, the relationship between food allergies and the "microbiome" – a collective term for the vast collection of microorganisms that live in our body. A human has an estimated 40 trillion bacteria and other microbes in their system, and there’s growing evidence that the gut microbiome has a role in food allergy. "We’re not relying solely on hypothesis anymore," Steve says. “Researchers now have vast libraries of bacteria harvested from the microbiome. That’s helping us understand how we can re-engineer the microbiome, altering its balance to interrupt the immune response process and help it ‘re-learn’ how it acts to potentially reverse diseases.
"What’s really special about this is that we are starting to think about how to use substances produced within our own body to create pharmaceutical therapies that not only turn off a particular immune response, but potentially keep it turned off,” he adds. “This is at the heart of our philosophy at Aimmune, where we’re using naturally occurring proteins in our development of treatments for gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases, as well as food allergies. Our knowledge and expertise in one field is just as relevant and valuable in the others."