One of Dr. Paul Shapero’s patients is so allergic to cats she can’t visit her own daughter, who owns several.
Then there are the cat lovers who, despite their allergy, would rather sneeze and wheeze than part with their beloved feline friends.
“It’s very personal oftentimes,” said Shapero, a Bangor allergist and immunologist.
He hopes cat-allergy sufferers will find relief in a new vaccine designed to squelch symptoms for months or even years after a short course of treatment. Shapero is part of a clinical trial on the experimental medication recruiting more than 1,100 volunteers from seven countries to participate.
The vaccine, developed by British specialty drug maker Circassia LTD, seeks to desensitize patients to cat allergens, much like typical allergy shots, but uses a purer, more potent kitty-derived material that leads to fewer side effects, a much shorter treatment period, and better results, Shapero said.
Allergy shots are often delivered over three to five years, he said. The cat-allergy vaccine requires just four or eight shots over several months, he said.
“It’s a quantum leap, if you will, in the efficacy and safety of allergy injections,” Shapero said.
The treatment is not designed to treat an allergic reaction on the spot.
The “CATALYST study” is a phase-three clinical research study, meaning previous, smaller studies have found the experimental medicine sufficiently safe and well-tolerated in cat allergy sufferers to justify a larger clinical trial.
About a quarter of the population may suffer from cat allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
The clinical trial is geared toward those with moderate to severe cat allergy, including people who have found allergy shots, prescription medications, or over-the-counter treatments ineffective or burdensome, Shapero said. Participants must be between the ages of 12 and 65, live with a cat, and have been diagnosed with a cat allergy for at least two years. The treatment will be administered at no cost and participants will be modestly reimbursed for their time and travel.
The local research will be supervised by Shapero and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The goal is to win FDA approval of the medication for use in the U.S.
The potential American market for a cat-allergy vaccine could be worth up to $1 billion, Circassia told Bloomberg News in May, citing consultancy group Kantar. The drug maker is also testing the vaccine for grass and dust mite allergies.
Shapero will be reimbursed by Circassia for enrolling and treating patients throughout the study.
Risks and drawbacks can be associated with joining any clinical trial. National standards require a detailed assessment to determine if a patient is appropriate for participation and a consent form that clearly states all potential risks and benefits.
Those interested in participating in clinical trials are advised consult their personal physicians.