Q: FARE is the world's largest private source of funding for food allergy research. What are the challenges in this field that FARE can help address?
Once an invisible disease, food allergies have been increasing at an alarming rate. Today, 15 million Americans have a food allergy, including 1 in 13 children – roughly two in every classroom. According to the CDC, the number of children with food allergies increased 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. There is no cure, and no FDA-approved treatment to prevent anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction. Strict avoidance of problem foods is the only way to stay safe. Unintentional exposure to allergens and cases of multiple food allergies are increasingly common and can lead to tragic consequences. These factors place a tremendous burden and stress on society, patients, and families.
This is a pivotal time in food allergy research. Until recently, little research was conducted and few scientists chose to enter the field. Research was reactive and did not approach the level of rigor necessary to define the medical underpinnings of food allergies or to develop therapeutics. Now, we are racing to better define these disorders and develop the financial and scientific resources needed to address this urgent national health issue.
To meet these challenges, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) holds biannual Research Retreats, which bring together world-renowned scientists, senior representatives from government and industry, and food allergy advocates. We have collaborated with these experts to develop and implement a comprehensive strategic plan for research. FARE funding attracts talented investigators to the field, and supports clinical trials and studies that advance our understanding of food allergies, including possible causes, prevalence, and the psychosocial and economic impact of the disease. Finally, we continue to work with the NIH to advocate for increased federal funding for research, which has risen from $4 million in 2004 to $31 million today.
Q: FARE released a comprehensive strategic plan last year. How has that plan driven your work?
The overarching goal of our strategic plan, which was published in November 2013, is to invest in research that helps us better understand the disease, and that will accelerate the development of safe, practical therapies that protect all people with food allergies from life-threatening reactions. Our work is driven by the three pillars of this plan:
- First, we aim to attract outstanding scientists to the field of food allergy, develop their careers, and expand their interaction and engagement.
- Second, we will develop the scientific understanding, tools, and resources that are needed to advance research and build a pipeline of new therapies. These tools include a patient registry and a biorepository.
- Third, we are creating the FARE Clinical Care Network (CCN), a national, FARE-certified network of food allergy centers that will provide outstanding patient care and will rapidly advance research on new and emerging therapies.
Immediately after the publication of the plan, we invited leading experts to serve on four committees that were charged with making specific recommendations for implementing this strategy. We are in the final stages of our implementation plan, which will guide all of our research initiatives and funding decisions over the next three years and beyond.
Q: Tell us about your focus on building a pipeline of future therapies.
The current pipeline of food allergy therapies is limited, and therapies that are under development for other allergic disorders are not being pursued for food allergies. This is partly because pharmaceutical companies are concerned about the lack of science around food allergy, and there are simply not enough clinical investigators working in the field to develop therapeutics. FARE is committed to providing grants that enable companies to advance promising therapeutics for food allergy and involve investigators at every stage of their career –particularly talented young scientists – to pursue novel ideas and generate data that will advance the field. We particularly hope to engage companies with therapies that have shown clinical efficacy for other allergic disorders, such as atopic dermatitis and asthma, to investigate using these drugs for treating food allergies. We hope to use our CCN to do these studies to ensure that new treatments become widely available as quickly as possible.
These initiatives will enable us to build a robust pipeline, which will include therapies that protect patients from life-threatening reactions, as well as methods to prevent food allergy.
Q: What do you consider FARE's greatest accomplishments over the last decade?
FARE's mission is to find a cure for food allergies, and to keep individuals with food allergies safe and included. For nearly two decades, FARE and its legacy organizations have played a crucial role in advancing food allergy research, investing millions of dollars in studies at major medical centers across the United States and internationally, and collaborating with the NIH, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and other key organizations.
While we pursue our research goals, we are firmly committed to meeting the urgent need for programs and resources that help individuals and families live well with food allergies today. In 2013, we achieved a landmark victory for the food allergy community, when President Obama signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. FARE championed this legislation, which became the first federal law encouraging schools to stock epinephrine and ensure school personnel are trained to administer this life-saving medication. We also contributed to the development of the CDC's national school food allergy guidelines, which were released in 2013.
One of our most significant accomplishments occurred in 2012, when the nation's two leading food allergy organizations merged to form FARE. The merger created the leading national organization dedicated to food allergy research, education, advocacy, and awareness.
FARE has transformed the national dialogue about food allergies. Coverage in high-profile media outlets, in social media, and through PSAs has heightened understanding of the seriousness of the disease and improved the quality of life for individuals and families managing food allergies.
Q: What are your top research goals over the next year, and what will it take to reach those goals?
The implementation of our research strategy is of paramount importance. While we will continue to encourage investigators to submit proposals, we will be moving toward an RFP model, which will enable us to focus on achieving our goals and driving innovation in the field. In April 2015, we will hold our third Research Retreat, which will bring together prominent investigators, senior government officials, representatives from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, and food allergy advocates. The retreat, which will be held in Washington, DC, will be an opportunity to evaluate our progress and refine our objectives.
We will also launch a new research grant program, which will address our most pressing need – attracting talented young researchers to the field. In addition to providing funding opportunities, we will develop ways to build communication and collaboration among these investigators.
Of course, implementing such an ambitious research strategy will require considerable engagement and investment from the food allergy community. FARE has launched The Pathways Campaign to help drive this investment and raise the funds needed to realize our research vision. We invite those interested in FARE's research strategy and other initiatives to learn more by visiting www.foodallergy.org.