Wednesday, 11 September 2019
In my professional life as a medical researcher and paediatrician I have witnessed firsthand the dramatic increase in food allergies. My research team found that Australia has one of the world's highest incidences of food allergies, with one in 10 infants and one in 20 children affected. Living with food allergies has been likened to living on a tightrope, living life in a perpetual state of hypervigilance because the next meal may result in serious and life-threatening anaphylaxis.
A new form of treatment, oral immunotherapy, is offering those with food allergies real hope of a cure. Oral immunotherapy involves planned and managed incremental exposure to the allergen under controlled clinical conditions. The treatment takes many months. In many cases it enables a child with a food allergy to live and eat more safely, and helps families get off the allergy tightrope.
There are two types of oral immunotherapy: one that involves pharmaceutical products and one that simply involves careful clinical supervision of introducing the food itself. The latter type, food immunotherapy, is being trialled overseas but is not yet available in Australia. Hundreds of Australian families have been travelling overseas in order to access food immunotherapy, to receive the treatment and the potential cure. These families relocate overseas for many months to undertake the painstakingly slow and clinically supervised increase in exposure to allergenic foods so that their son or daughter can become desensitised to that food. The travel, the overseas treatment and the relocation are all paid for by the families themselves. These families are so desperate to make their child's life safer that they are willing to pay literally hundreds of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars, from their own pockets.
Trials of food immunotherapy require government support in Australia because they involve giving a food, not a drug, and, therefore, pharmaceutical companies cannot profit from the development of this type of immunotherapy. I acknowledge the work of Melissa Mooney, other patients and parents who have children suffering from severe allergies and note that they have already taken proactive measures in putting before the Petitions Committee a petition encouraging the government to invest in food immunotherapy trials. By conducting head-to-head clinical trials of dosing protocols already used overseas we can provide the opportunity of a readily-available treatment right here in Australia. Investment in Australia in trials of food immunotherapy in a practical, accessible form would remove the need for overseas relocation and the expense to patients. Such trials will lessen the burden of food allergy in Australia, and in a cost-effective manner it will save lives.