Repurposed cancer drug shows promise for food allergies

A drug approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for treating certain cancers is currently under investigation for its potential to prevent reactions to some of the most common food and airborne allergens.

Tyrosine kinases, including Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) are known to play a crucial role in cellular activation and mediator release from mast cells and basophils, which are responsible for immediate allergic reactions. The drug Ibrutinib is a selective and irreversible BTK inhibitor recently approved by the FDA for use by patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and mantle cell lymphoma.

In a very small initial study, two cancer patients with allergies such as cat dander and ragweed saw their allergic skin test reactivity reduced by 80 to 90 percent in one week, and this persisted with continued use of the drug for one to two months.

The researchers behind this pilot are now conducting a trial with adults with food allergy to see if their skin test and basophil activation test responses show a similar reduction after treatment with ibrutinib and how long such benefits might last.

Reference: Regan et al. 2017 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. DOI:

Additional reporting can be found on the Northwestern University website.