If you ever had or have a pet who develops itchy allergies that makes them scratch or chew to the point of wounding themselves, you know how difficult it is to treat. Even worse, food allergies can make it difficult for pets or humans to swallow.

Fortunately, new approaches to treating these difficult pet allergies may be on the way, according to two scientists at “Woof-Choo! Allergies in Companion Animals” – An Animal Health and Nutrition Forum.”

The presentation at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center explored ways that animals provide clues to treating humans with the same allergies, and on the other hand, treating allergies in people provides insight into ways to treat animals.

Inflammation and the immune system’s T-cell response is the culprit in mammalian allergy attacks. Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is a chronic condition that makes it hard for victims to swallow. It occurs when a type of white blood cell, the eosinophil, accumulates excessively in the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach, causing irritation and injury.

Tobias Kaeser, Ph.D. 

Tobias Kaeser, who holds a Ph.D. in immunology, described his research establishing pigs as a model for studying EoE among other allergies to potentially provide insight into their causes and potential treatment.

In 2016, he started as an assistant professor in swine immunology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. He is part of the Center for Food Allergy Modeling in Pigs (CFAMP), which includes five other scientists.

The lab focuses on two translational biomedical projects — Chlamydia trachomatis and food allergies, especially EoE, an increasingly pressing health issue causing billions of dollars in losses to the U.S. health system.

About one in 10 adults and one in 13 children suffer from food allergies, and food allergies have increased 377 percent from 2007 to 2016, he noted, calling it a “food allergy epidemic.” Millions of people and animals worldwide suffer from allergies to peanuts, eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, and meat, among other foods.

Pigs are excellent animal models to provide insights into human ills because their physiology, long life spans, and immune systems are similar to those of humans, he explained.

Ongoing research at NC State, for which his lab seeks additional funding grants, traces how EoE is caused, seeking insights that could lead to new treatment options.

He pointed out that there are currently no U.S. Food and Drug Administration drugs approved to treat EoE, despite its increasing incidence.

Humans a model for studying pet allergies

Studying how humans treat itchiness is a good way to find new ways to treat animals, including dogs, cats, and horses, said Stefan C Weiss, M.D. and MBA, founder and CEO of Raleigh-based Aniluxx Biotechnologies, which was founded in 2019.

Previously Weiss, a board certified dermatologist, was the senior medical director at California-based Connetics Corp through its acquisition by Stiefel/GSK. There, he advanced three topical dermatologic drug candidates through New Drug Application approval that utilized a novel vehicle technology. He went on to found and grow a clinical practice and research center in human dermatology for 10 years until its acquisition.

Stefan Weiss, M.D.

Atopic dermatitis (often called eczema) is a problem in both humans and animals. It can be caused by an allergic reaction to grass, mold, dust mites and other things common in the environment. It’s often treated with drugs or immunotherapy. Once again, inflammation and Th2 cell immune system reactions are a primary cause.

A lesson learned from humans is that treating the epidermal barrier to block pathogens rather than trying to fix the problem from the inside out with drugs, is effective. However, that is a more difficult proposition in animals with fur than in humans.

Aniluxx is developing an anti-itch polymeric emulsion treatment for animals that spreads evenly and disappears instantly to treat itchiness. It can’t be licked off and won’t mess up a couch, he said. “Humans are a great animal model for pets,” said Weiss. “I want to take great, well-approved medicines we have for humans and bring them to pets.”

He pointed out that people are often willing to spend significant amounts for pet health. Total spending on pet treatments exceeds $15 billion. The upward curve of spending on pet health did not decline even during the recent Great Recession

Aniluxx landed a $200,000 seed round in December 2019 that Weiss said will get the company through the couple of years needed to get the treatment approved and into vet offices.

(c) North Carolina Biotechnology Center