October 1st marked the end of my first year as CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), and I’ll admit that there are moments when the enormity of the food allergy problem can seem overwhelming. I take solace, however, in the important advancements we have made in 2015 for the food allergy community. They are right in keeping with FARE’s core mission: to improve the life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide hope through the promise of new treatments.
Food allergy research remains a frustratingly underdeveloped field, but in 2015 a few key steps were taken to help accelerate work in this area. The establishment of the FARE Clinical Network, a groundbreaking research collaborative consisting initially of 22 nationwide centers of excellence, allows for a coordinated approach to food allergy research.
This network will promote the sharing of best practices, elevate the level of clinical care for patients, and accelerate the development of life-changing food allergy therapeutics in ways that individual researchers and centers cannot accomplish alone. This network has drawn new investigators to the field of food allergy, and FARE’s funding of two new and three mid-career investigators – through the FARE Investigator in Food Allergy Awards – augmented this effort.
The year 2015 also brought several remarkable research studies that have improved our understanding of food allergy. The groundbreaking LEAP study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in February, showed that peanut allergy might be prevented early in life in some at-risk children by feeding them peanut snacks. This has already led to new guidance suggesting early peanut introduction, in consultation with a physician, by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the American Academy of Pediatrics and a host of other groups. The LEAP study and its continuing investigations will have a significant impact on approaches to preventing the development of peanut allergy in future generations. FARE was pleased to have co-funded the six-year LEAP study along with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
During the past year, our research and advocacy teams also combined forces to improve our understanding of food allergy as a public health issue, and to make air travel safer for the food allergy community.
In 2015, work began on a new consensus study by the Institute of Medicine. Sponsored predominantly by FARE, with support from NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and others, this research will address key questions about food allergies and will provide a comprehensive report on the state of food allergy in the United States. This study will provide essential information toward guiding future education, advocacy and research efforts on food allergy. We look forward to the consensus report due in 2016.
The introduction this past August of the bipartisan Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which reflects the concerns of a coalition of food allergy patient advocacy organizations convened by FARE, is a great example of a collaborative approach to our problems. This bill, which at press time was pending in the U.S. Senate, directs the U.S. Government Accountability Office to generate a national report examining airline policies and would require airlines to carry epinephrine auto-injectors for use in allergic emergencies.
Too often, the advocacy and education efforts of the food allergy community are thwarted by a lack of solid data on key issues. The GAO report that this bill calls for will be instrumental in collecting the data needed to drive the development of clear and consistent policies by airlines on accommodating passengers with food allergies.
This unified approach is the cornerstone to making a change in other areas, such as education and awareness. This year, we once again saw overwhelming support for the Teal Pumpkin Project™, which promotes safety, inclusion and respect of children managing food allergies at Halloween. We were heartened to see participation in this campaign in all 50 states, and the considerable media attention that the initiative received serves to raise awareness of food allergy as a serious public health issue.
By the end of 2015, FARE rolled out a new program for schools*, which will serve the critical need of providing school staff with evidence-based best practices for keeping students with food allergies safe and included.
Together, FARE and the allergy community have made important strides this year; however there is still much work to be done. All of us at FARE are dependent on your support and partnership to achieve our goals. Working together, we can make a difference for all of those affected by food allergies.
*FARE’s new schools program will be available online in January 2016. Watch for updates in FARE’s January newsletters.