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Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 00:36 GMT
Hayfever injection hope
Hayfever symptoms could be eased
Hayfever sufferers may be offered relief from their symptoms with an experimental treatment being developed in the US.

Researchers have been working with patients allergic to ragweed, a common weed in the States.

The new treatment, which gives injections of the allergy-causing agent (allergen), works much faster than existing treatments of that type, researchers say.

UK experts say this and trials of similar treatments in Europe could one day lead to more efficient treatments, but more research is needed first.

The immunotherapy drug reduces the severity of symptoms

Dr Peter Creticos, Johns Hopkins
Many hayfever sufferers use antihistamines to control symptoms resulting from their allergic reaction.

Where antihistamines fail, patients may be given immunotherapy in which allergen is injected under the skin in increasingly bigger doses until the person loses sensitivity to the allergen.

Immunotherapy usually takes at least six months to work, and patients may need further treatment for up to five years.

Reduced reactions

The treatment examined by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, Baltimore, involved six injections in just six weeks.

It was tested on 25 adults with severe ragweed allergy.

Scientists looked at the response to inhaled ragweed before and after injections, and tested immune response and clinical symptoms during a ragweed season.

Levels of antibodies and T cells, which are part of the body's normal immune response, were measured.

The trial used a drug called AIC, created by attaching immune-boosting molecules, or oligonucleotides, to the major ragweed protein responsible for allergic reactions.

Early results showed the treatment significantly reduced symptoms such as runny noses, sneezing, nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes.

Patients also had to use less allergy medication in the peak ragweed season, compared to patients who received a placebo.

'Improved quality of life'

The treatment also caused no allergic reactions, which can be a problem with allergy injections.

Dr Peter Creticos, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, said: "Our studies represent a major advance in the development of new treatments for allergic disease.

"This study demonstrates that we can induce a clear clinical response in ragweed-allergic patients with a brief six-week, six-injection regimen.

"The immunotherapy drug reduces the severity of symptoms and the need for other medications, while improving the quality of life for allergy sufferers."

Dr Creticos said the study backs the value of the immunotherapy for other inflammatory conditions, including asthma, gastrointestinal disorders and rheumatoid arthritis.

Further trials are planned for the next ragweed season.

Even if successful, it could be several years before the treatment receives official approval.

Dr Raja Rajakulasingam, a consultant physician at the Homerton Hospital in east London, who has a special interest in allergy-related diseases, has carried out similar initial testing on a drug called Allergobit, also given in just a few weekly doses.

He told BBC News Online: "The number of subjects in this study is small. There are no studies of a large number of patients.

"The study obviously describes an improvement in symptoms but doesn't give any figures. There is no quantification."

But he said if further trials did confirm the treatment's benefits, it could help patients who would not have to undergo the long-term conventional treatment, which sometimes did not prove effective until two or three years after being given.

The research was presented to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meetings in New York on Saturday.

The drug used in the trial is produced by Dynavax Technologies Corporation of Berkeley, California. Dr Creticos and Dr Lawrence Lichtenstein, director of the Division of Clinical Immunology at Johns Hopkins, are paid consultants to the company.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Health
Herbal treatment for hayfever
25 Oct 01 | England
Hayfever jab trials underway
23 Aug 99 | Health
Hayfever vaccine hope
09 Jul 99 | Medical notes
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