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Johns Hopkins doctor led studies underlying drug approved to protect from severe food allergies

Johns Hopkins doctor led studies underlying drug approved to protect from severe food allergies
Johns Hopkins doctor led studies underlying drug approved to protect from severe food allergies 02:53

BALTIMORE - Traveling to new places, eating out in restaurants and even a school cafeteria can be scary for those living with severe food allergies.

Fortunately, that may not be the case anymore.

Xolair,  a drug that's been used for decades to treat asthma, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect people from dangerous, even deadly, food allergies.   

The efforts to get that drug approved were done right here in Baltimore.

It was the work of Dr. Robert Wood, with the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, who led the studies underlying this drug's approval. He said his trials show that an asthma drug may be the key to freedom for people with food allergies.

Wood doesn't mean people who have a peanut allergy can suddenly eat a jar of peanut butter. However, he says that in the event of an accidental exposure, the reaction won't be as severe. 

"It's very scary and we had to carry around an Epipen all the time," said Baltimore mother Bola Banjo.

Banjo knows what it's like to be a mother of a child with severe food allergies. Her 13-year-old son is allergic to peanuts.

Just one bite has him reaching for the Epipen. 

"He breaks out in hives and his throat definitely swells, so it's scary," Banjo said. 

But that fear may soon be a thing of the past.

Wood led the underlying studies in Xolair's approval.

He says the findings were a game-changer.

"Going into the study, the average person reacted to a little less than 1/10 of a peanut, and the average person after could eat 16 peanuts with no reaction," Wood said. 

Wood says about 8% of children and 10% of adults have at least one food allergy, and up to 86% of them are allergic to more than one food. 

By inserting an injection every two to four weeks, patients would drastically decrease the side effects in children and adults with severe food allergies, including peanuts, milk, eggs and shellfish, by interrupting the reaction. 

"We think from that standpoint, the word life-changing is appreciated because you're going to go from a situation where a lot of families are paralyzed by fear they have to be able to lead a more normal life," Wood said.

Wood says the drug is used as a protection, so those with food allergies should still avoid certain foods.

But for parents, it's the freedom her stepson and her family have been waiting on,

"Living in fear of if he's out on a trip and he eats something he's not supposed to, now you wouldn't have that fear necessarily if he's taking that medicine," Banjo said.

Wood says patients have to remain on the drug consistently for it to work..

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