Boy’s Therapy Journey: From Extreme Allergies to Food Freedom

in Features, Managing Allergies, Parenting & School
Published: February 28, 2024

As a child, Luca Hoang’s allergies to peanuts, walnuts and hazelnuts led to several scary reactions. 

So when his mom Kira Sevene heard about the OUtMATCH trial studying the injectable medication Xolair to treat food allergies, she was interested. Luca, not so much.

Kira Sevene and son Luca

He’d needed an auto-injector several times after accidental exposures, and didn’t like the sound of more needles.

But when he turned 8, “he was feeling braver,” says Sevene, a mother of three from Lexington, Massachusetts. 

He wanted to try peanut butter cups and Nutella – and he wanted to take part to help other kids. “He decided he really wanted to do it.” 

Sevene was motivated, too. “The fear was as he got older, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to be hovering at all times” because of his food allergies, she says. She wanted to “let him live his life but be safe.” 

Helping Others with Food Allergies 

To qualify for the OUtMATCH trial studying Xolair, Luca had to undergo oral food challenges to each of his allergens. He was very reactive. He needed an epinephrine shot to quell reactions to the foods he ate during the challenges. 

Luca took it in stride, but the tests were tough on his mom. Sevene reminded herself: Not only would Xolair potentially protect him, he’s “going to make a difference for everyone else.” 

During the first stage of the study, every four weeks, Luca could have received either periodic Xolair shots or placebo shots. “That was hard to swallow, thinking he might be getting shots of nothing. But we knew we were doing this for science,” she says. 

After 16 weeks of shots, Luca again underwent food challenges. He could tolerate significantly more of his allergens than before. 

“We knew at that point he had been receiving the Xolair shots,” Sevene says. “It was crazy to witness. It was the first time we’d ever see him eat nuts and have any tolerance at all.”

“We were so grateful at that point to be in the trial. It gave us a lot of hope.” 

Therapy Next Stage: Xolair with OIT

In February 2024, the FDA approved Xolair as a standalone therapy for food allergies, based on the first stage of the OUtMatch study, which Luca took part in. The study has several stages.

Stage 2 is studying Xolair as a food allergy treatment on its own and comparing that to using it as a companion treatment alongside multi-allergen oral immunotherapy. OIT involves eating progressively greater amount of food over weeks or months to determine how much can be tolerated. 

In stage 2, participants who’ve been on Xolair begin to consume a powder (mixed into food) that contains their allergen in increasing amounts. Others are fed a placebo powder. Some also continue to receive Xolair, while others get placebo shots. 

Luca has been in stage 2, which is still in progress. His family didn’t know which group he was in during the trial. He spent about a year eating a significant amount of the OIT powder and having once-a-month Xolair shots. 

The current approval for Xolair is solely for protection against accidental allergen exposures. It is a therapy, not a cure and allergic individuals are still advised to avoid their allergens.

But Luca’s progress was exceptional. So much so that doctors working with him told his family that he should be able to start eating peanuts, walnuts and hazelnuts. 

Exceptional Progress: Food Freedom

Today, Luca, now 11, eats 4.5 peanuts daily, 1½ teaspoons of walnut butter, and 1½ teaspoons of hazelnuts daily as his maintenance dose. He no longer receives the Xolair shots.  

The experience has been “transformational,” Sevene says. Birthday parties and sleepovers are no longer anxiety-provoking. The family feels confident trying out new restaurants and cuisines. 

Traveling abroad for vacations have become much easier. “There isn’t as much anxiety,” Sevene says. “It’s just the feeling of safety.”

Related Reading:
Xolair and Food Allergies FAQ: Dosing, Risks, Insurance, OIT
FDA Approves Xolair to Avert Severe Food Reactions