In recent lab experiments, researchers have found that pills used to treat blood cancers may potentially prevent life-threatening allergic reactions. These pills, called BTK inhibitors, have been shown to stall the process that triggers life-threatening allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis. Approved drugs that inhibit BTK have been used to treat lymphoma, and various drugs that inhibit BTK are in clinical trials.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, anaphylaxis occurs in about one in 50 Americans. The reaction often comes on suddenly after exposure to certain foods, insect stings, and medications. So, researchers hope the work behind BTK inhibitors might pave the way to treatment that offers protection from anaphylaxis.
Testing BTK Inhibitors
BTK is an enzyme within cells that helps set off allergic reactions. Blocking BTK would prevent allergies. Findings presented in the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed three different BTK inhibitors that can block allergic responses in human mast cells, which release histamine that fuels allergy symptoms. One drug was able to block allergic reactions in lab mice after a single injection. Also, pretreatment with just two oral doses of the BTK inhibitor acalabrutinib completely prevented moderate IgE-mediated anaphylaxis in mice.
In similar studies, cancer patients who were on the BTK inhibitor ibrutinib (Imbruvica) had a reduction in allergic responses to pollen and cat dander. Researchers are now testing how successful the drug is at targeting allergies to foods like tree nuts and peanuts.
Side Effects of BTK Inhibitors
A common side effect of BTK inhibitors is a drop in certain white blood cells. The drop usually isn’t severe enough to stop taking the drug. There is also a risk of developing pneumonia as seen in cancer patients.
According to Cancer Updates, Research & Education, there is always a risk of atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia of the heart. This is seen in 10% to 15% of all patients on BTK inhibitors. These patients work with a cardiologist to manage atrial fibrillation.
How to Safely Prevent Anaphylaxis
While there is promise in BTK inhibitors to prevent anaphylaxis, they are not an approved treatment for anaphylaxis. Avoiding your allergens is the best way to prevent anaphylaxis. You should also have epinephrine on hand to treat serious allergic reactions. At NY Allergy & Sinus Centers, we are hopeful for new treatments to prevent anaphylaxis. That’s why our allergists follow the latest updates in medicine and have even published their own findings. For more information on our latest research or to book an appointment with one of our experienced allergists, call (212) 686-4448 or schedule an appointment online.