Cat Allergy Update: Vaccine Vs Shots

Cat-SPIRE vaccine failed in clinical trials


Feline allergy treatments haven’t advanced much for years, even as millions of people suffer from wheezing and in severe cases, risk death from exposure to cat allergens.

Other than simply avoiding cats, immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is the current treatment for those people allergic.

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Scientists who study the human immune system are trying to understand the root cause of allergies, and are researching next-generation vaccines that could stop allergies, rather than simply treating the symptoms.

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The fate of a well-known cat allergy therapy, Cat-SPIRE, came to a quick end when a late-stage clinical trial showed a placebo was just as effective as the vaccine.

“I was very disappointed,” says allergist Dr. Harold Nelson of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, who helped head the international research effort.

With the immunotherapy treatment, the company Circassia Ltd. aimed to reduce the number of allergy shots needed to desensitize a patient to cat allergies by using fragments of the offending Fel d1 cat protein.

But the vaccine candidate failed.

Other than simply avoiding cats, immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is the current treatment option for cat allergy.

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Allergy shots involve giving injections to patients of allergens in an increasing dose over time.

To do so, the doctor injects small amounts of cat protein extract into the body over several visits, slowly increasing the dosage and then staying at a target level for three to five years.

The hope is to achieve desensitization, or at the very least, greatly reduced symptoms.

This process is far from ideal.

Not only does it require close to 100 injections, it is incredibly time-consuming, with untold hours spent at the doctor’s office. Not surprisingly, many patients simply quit going.

Moreover, some people can’t afford traditional allergy therapy.

The cost for administration of shots, including preparation of the allergy serum, is about $20 to $100 per visit. If shots are needed weekly, the cost ranges between $1,560 to $3,900 per year. In subsequent years, the frequency might drop to twice a month, so the yearly cost would be about $720 to $1,800 per year.

Allergies to furry pets are common, especially among people who have other allergies or asthma.

Cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says the condition affects an estimated 50 million Americans, including the 30 percent of those with allergic asthma who list cat dander as a key trigger.

Solving allergies is hard.

Current medications such as Benadryl, Claritin, and epinephrine (EpiPen) do a decent job controlling symptoms in most patients.

Which means, there’s little financial incentive to innovate.

“There’s a dearth of new allergy products because antihistamines work so well,” said Dr. Todd Brady, CEO of Aldeyra Therapeutics, who is developing a drug to reduce eye irritation from allergies.

“They’re generic, they’re cheap, they’re safe, and easy to use, but unfortunately, a lot of patients suffer because not everyone responds to antihistamines,” Brady said.