Until now people like 40-year-old Kristyn Ribble had few ways to cope with their extreme allergies: avoid contact with their allergen, or take medications that can sometimes have serious side effects. But a recent breakthrough by Reparre Biologic is offering a chance to “cure” severe allergic reactions, not just manage symptoms. Using genome editing technology, the company says one shot is enough to permanently rid an individual of any allergy. Reparre says the treatments are safe, quick, and a game changer for those suffering from life threatening allergies.
Kristyn is part of an ever increasingly large group commonly referred to as “Allergy Exiles”. Suffering from a severe sensitivity to tree pollen, Kristyn has spent most of her adult life veiling from place to place in order to stay ahead of pollen blooms. She says, “As a kid I’d have to stay inside for weeks at a time and the medicine I was prescribed made me hyper. It wasn’t a pretty picture. I didn’t understand why my parents gave me these pills that made me bounce off the walls and then would keep me inside while all my friends were out playing. When I was 8 I snuck out to jump through the sprinkler with the neighbor kids during a pollen bloom. I made it through the water a few times before my throat started to close. For the last 32 years I haven’t felt safe outside. I can’t wait to get the treatment and try to live a normal life, without having to move at the beginning of every season or breathe scrubbed air.”
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) estimates that over 200,000 people in the U.S. alone are allergy exiles. Mirroring the rise of severe peanut allergies in the 2000’s, the increase in severe pollen allergies has been dramatic and the cause remains a point of controversy. While many radical environmentalists and fringe medical practitioners claim the increase is due to Veilcorp activity or 127 poisoning, most allergists believe in the “hygiene hypothesis”.
According to the hypothesis, children are not exposed to enough infectious agents and parasites, as well as beneficial symbiotic bacteria when young. This severely holds back the natural development of the immune system and leads to extreme susceptibility to allergic diseases. Ironically, according to the explanation the air filters that Kristyn has relied on most of her life may be making her condition worse.
The treatment devised by Reparre is several years in the making and once administered lasts a lifetime. “We use our stem-cell therapy and personalized DNA medicine to permanently modify genes in our patient’s cells putting an end to their body’s extreme response to allergens. Beyond just a stuffy nose and watery eyes, for people like Kristyn, allergic reactions can be fatal. When we started looking into the problem we were surprised to learn that nobody was doing any serious work in the area. Most doctors recommended exposure therapy, but that was at the very least uncomfortable for patients, and could often be dangerous. Our treatment involves taking a cheek swab to harvest some cells, and a return visit the next day for a shot. That’s it. No more living in fear of anaphylaxis,” says CEO Shawn Hastings.
While Reparre says their allergy cure is easy, safe, and quick, there were a number of troubling reports during the treatment’s trial phase. One of the earliest recipients of the treatment was reported to have become allergic to his own hair and later another subject developed a severe sensitivity to water. Hastings dismisses the stories as the fabrications of a disgruntled employee. “I can assure you that nobody has suffered any permanent harm during our testing. Like all trials, we learned some valuable information about side effects and the efficacy of our therapy. But we’re talking about things like nausea and a slight rash, nothing near as dangerous as the conditions we were treating. This treatment is a new lease on life for many.”
Kristyn agrees. She has already made an appointment and plans to be the first recipient of the treatment at her doctor’s office when it is available next week. “It’s going to be a big change for me. I usually spend my winters in Sydney catching as many shows as I can at the Opera House. Then I veil to Tokyo and stay until the cherry blossoms begin to bud, and I move on to my spring/summer homes in Oslo or Stockholm. I absolutely love Scandinavian summers. The fall sees me veiling to my beach house in Lahaina so I can catch the food and wine festival and watch the whales when they begin to arrive. A few months later the whales and I head back to Sydney and begin the whole process again. It’s exhausting! With this new treatment I’m hopeful that I can finally enjoy my many homes in any order I want.”
While the therapy was targeted at dealing with life threatening allergies, Hastings is quick to point out that the procedure works equally well for those with less severe reactions. “If you’re sick of taking a pill every time you go to visit your aunt and her collection of cats, or you just want to stop and smell the roses without getting a sinus headache, ask your doctor if our treatment is right for you. It’s quick, easy, and lasts forever.”