The parents of a teenager killed by an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger sandwich say a clinical trial launched in her name “would have meant everything to her”.
The trial will investigate whether peanut and milk products can be used under medical supervision as a treatment to improve tolerance. Announcing it, Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, said their aim was to “make food allergies history”.
Their daughter, Natasha, was 15 when she died in 2016 after a severe allergic reaction to a Pret baguette that contained sesame. Under the law at the time, the sandwich did not require an allergy label as it had been made on site.
The three-year oral immunotherapy trial will be led by the University of Southampton and University hospital Southampton NHS foundation trust. It was funded by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation.
Tanya Ednan-Laperouse told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday: “If Natasha was alive today and she knew what was happening, that there was a clinical trial in her name, it would have meant everything to her.
“And I think knowing that there was research happening, looking into solutions and looking into treatments so that she could live a less stressed life around the food that she was eating would have been enormous for her.”
Nadim Ednan-Laperouse said: “She’s in heaven now. She’s looking down and she’s saying: ‘Yes mummy and daddy. Fantastic. Let’s do this.’”
Natasha’s parents have campaigned to make life safer for those with allergies since their daughter’s death. A food safety law, known as “Natasha’s Law” was introduced in October 2021 to compel all food made on premises to have full ingredient and allergen labelling.
The NHS already uses a drug called Palforzia, a powder manufactured from peanuts, to build tolerance over time in a monthly dose.
The trial will look at whether everyday foods can be used instead of costly medicines to provide treatment for thousands of people with allergies. The study will recruit 216 children and young adults with allergies to cow’s milk and peanuts.
After 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.
Nadim 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.”
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.
He said that, if successful, “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”.
Several hospitals across the UK are taking part, including Imperial College London, the University hospitals of Leicester NHS trust, Newcastle University and Sheffield Children’s hospital.
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.”