The parents of a teenager who died from an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette have set up a ground-breaking trial with the aim of “making food allergies history”.
Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse launched the trial to investigate whether commonly available peanut and milk products, taken under medical supervision, can be used as a treatment for people with food allergies.
The couple lost their 15-year-old daughter Natasha in 2016 after she suffered a severe allergic reaction to sesame in a Pret baguette.
Natasha had bought the artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from the Pret store at Heathrow airport before a flight to Nice with her father.
The sandwich did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper because, as it was made on the premises, this was not required by law.
In October 2021, a new food safety law – known as “Natasha’s Law” – was brought in requiring full ingredient and allergen labelling on all food made on the premises.
The new, three-year, oral immunotherapy (OIT) trial, funded by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, will be led by the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
They will partner with Imperial College London, the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Newcastle University and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
The £2.2 million trial hopes to show that people with food allergies may no longer have to avoid foods with small amounts of allergens due to production, and also be able to eat popular foods like cakes, curries and pizza.
Cash for the trial has been raised by the foundation, including from food businesses such as Greggs, Tesco, Just Eat, Co-op, Morrisons, KFC, Sainsbury’s, Costa, Burger King, Pret, Lidl and Leon.
In December 2021, the NHS backed Palforzia, a treatment to reduce the severity of reactions to peanuts, including anaphylaxis.
Patients receive a monthly dose, enabling tolerance to be carefully built over time.
In contrast, the new trial will look at whether everyday foods can be used to provide treatment for thousands of people with allergies.
The study will recruit 216 people between the ages of three and 23 with an allergy to cow’s milk, and aged six to 23 with an allergy to peanuts.
Following an initial 12 months of desensitisation under strict medical supervision, those taking part will be followed for two more years to provide longer term data.
Mr Ednan-Laperouse said: “This is a major first step in our mission to make food allergies history.
“The aim is to save lives and prevent serious hospitalisations by offering lifelong protection against severe allergic reactions to foods.
“We are delighted that a consortium of food businesses are supporting our work with donations that will help fund this study.
“The study aims to plug the current oral immunotherapy research gap by proving that everyday foods can be used as a practical treatment for children and young adults with allergies at a fraction of the cost to the NHS.
“If successful, this will empower the NHS to provide cost-effective treatments for people living with food allergies through oral immunotherapy.
“It would enable people, once desensitised under clinical supervision, to control their own lives and stay allergy safe using shop bought foods rather than expensive pharmaceutical products.”
Mrs Ednan-Laperouse said: “We have been determined that Natasha’s death should not be in vain.
“Following the successful implementation of Natasha’s Law, which has brought new ingredient and allergen labelling, we are delighted to announce the first Natasha clinical trial.”
Hasan Arshad, professor of allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Southampton, said: “This project presents a unique opportunity to establish immunotherapy as a practical treatment that will allow people with food allergies to live a normal life.”
Co-chief investigator Dr Paul Turner, reader in paediatric allergy and clinical immunology at Imperial College London, said: “This study heralds a new era for the active treatment of food allergy.
“For too long, we have told people just to avoid the food they are allergic to.
“That is not a treatment, and food-allergic people and their families deserve better.”