August 30, 2006

Pill could replace allergy shots for hay fever

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hay fever sufferers may soon be
able to get their allergy shots in the form of a pill,
according to a European study.

The research, published in the Journal of Allergy and
Clinical Immunology, adds to evidence supporting the
effectiveness of an oral form of immunotherapy using a rapidly
dissolving grass allergen tablet called Grazax.

Immunotherapy, in the form of allergy shots, has long been
used to treat hay fever and certain other allergies. Allergies
arise from an immune system reaction against a normally benign
substance, such as grass pollen. Immunotherapy is designed to
help the immune system develop a tolerance for the culprit
substance, by exposing the body to tiny amounts of it over

Despite its effectiveness, immunotherapy is used only for a
limited number of patients, partly due to inconvenience and
discomfort. The treatment requires weekly allergy shots for
several months, followed by monthly ones for several years.

Because Grazax is given by mouth, where it dissolves under
the tongue, it could serve as a simpler, more patient-friendly
alternative to immunotherapy injections, according to the
authors of the new study, led by Dr. Ronald Dahl of Aarhus
University in Denmark.

Based on this study and earlier, preliminary research,
Grazax has already been approved in Sweden. The product maker,
Denmark-based ALK-Abello, is now applying for approval in other
European countries.

The data supporting the effectiveness of Grazax come from
634 adults with grass pollen allergy who were randomly assigned
to take either a Grazax pill or a placebo pill every day,
starting at least 16 weeks before the allergy season, then
continuing throughout the season.

Each day, the patients used a scale to rate the severity of
their symptoms, including runny nose, congestion, sneezing and
itchy, watery eyes.

Overall, Dahl's team found, patients on immunotherapy had
symptom scores that were 30 percent lower than placebo
patients', and they needed their standard hay fever medication
about one-third less often. The immunotherapy group also had
more symptom-free, medication-free days during allergy season.

Side effects of the treatment included throat irritation
and itchiness and swelling in the mouth and ears. But the
researchers found no instances of serious allergic reaction to
the therapy, which can sometimes happen with allergy shots.

"The grass allergen tablet," Dahl and his colleagues
conclude, "might represent a new baseline treatment of grass
pollen allergy."

Ongoing research will look into whether the benefits last
once patients stop taking the pills, after a few years of
treatment. ALK-Abello is funding the research, and several of
the study authors have financial ties to the company.

SOURCE: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, August