Allergy Sufferers Prepare for Ragweed Season with First U.S. Approved Allergy Extract in a Pill

MedStar Georgetown is one of the first hospital in the United States to prescribe a daily ragweed pill to patients, not for allergy symptoms, but to build immunity to the ragweed pollen. The pill called RAGWITEK was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2014 for hay fever in patients age 18 through 65.

June 3, 2014

MedStar Georgetown Offers More Convenient Option to Allergy Shots

(Washington, D.C.) - Michelle Gottke is an elementary school art teacher in Fairfax, Virginia with little time for weekly trips to an allergist for shots to relieve her debilitating seasonal allergies, including ragweed.

“It’s hard and exhausting at times,” said Michelle. “The kids know I sometimes pull on my ear because I can’t hear due to yet another sinus infection or I’m just totally congested and I get this squeaky voice. I’ve been taking antibiotics for nearly two years now because every time I’m exposed to an allergen, I get an infection. I’ve also had two sinus surgeries but I still get congested and infected.”

Michelle is the first patient at MedStar Georgetown and one of the first in the United States to begin taking a daily ragweed pill, not for allergy symptoms, but to build her immune system to the ragweed pollen.

The pill called RAGWITEK was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2014 for hay fever in patients age 18 through 65. The pill contains an extract from short ragweed pollen (Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Michelle started taking the pills in May to prepare her for ragweed season in August.

“I’m very excited about this immunotherapy pill option for my patients,” said Suzette Mikula, M.D., an Otolaryngologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital with specialties in allergy and rhinology.

“The regular allergy medications work but they can have side effects and they don’t help you build any immunity,” said Dr. Mikula. “You only treat the symptoms. About 80% of people who take allergy shots respond to them, but many people have problems getting to a doctor’s office once a week and the injections can take years to work.”

Patients start taking RAGWITEK about three months before the start of ragweed season, which is in mid-August. They continue taking it through the ragweed season until the first hard frost. Then they stop the medication and can start it again the following year.

“If I can make it through a ragweed season without a sinus infection I will be really excited,” said Michelle. “I just feel like I’m in a constant allergy fog.”

Patients are prescribed RAGWITEK which they can get at their pharmacy. They take their first pill in the physician’s office in the event they have a negative reaction. The pill easily dissolves under the tongue in about two minutes. If they have no severe reaction they can take the pill daily at home.

Patients are also prescribed an EpiPen in the event of a negative reaction.

“Immunity therapy works by building what are called ‘blocking antibodies’ to the agent,” said Dr. Mikula. “After a period of time it has a long lasting effect and people feel better. By continuing the exposure we develop immunity. With allergy shots you build up slowly and it can take years. RAGWITEK is one single dose of the allergen; ragweed in a pill. The goal is for patients to have significantly improved allergy symptoms, use less rescue medications and overall feel better much sooner.”

Next winter, Dr. Mikula will offer her patients with grass allergies a similar treatment in time for spring. In April 2014 the FDA also approved allergen extracts in pill form for grass.

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