Making peanuts safer for all
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Still in development, a new process for peanuts from Alrgn Bio is designed to make the world a safer place for people with peanut allergies. However, those people would not be able to eat those peanuts.
“It’s really not for people with peanut allergies,” said Kit McQuiston, chief executive officer of Greensboro-based Alrgn Bio. “It’s the other 300 million people (in the United States) that could be eating it without any loss of their lifestyle or taste or performance of the peanut.”
A post-harvest process neutralizes allergenic proteins in the peanuts.
“These will be substantially safer,” he said. “That’s why we call them safer instead of safe. The idea here is that if there is an accidental ingestion from one of the peanuts in a restaurant or an airplane or a school or a stadium, chances are they won’t have an anaphylaxis severe reaction, having to go to the hospital. So the idea here is to make it much safer for people with allergies.”
The innovation may allow restaurant operators to serve peanuts or foods with peanuts in them and reduce their fear of liability, Mr. McQuiston said. The treated peanuts could be placed in a bag whole or ground up into peanut butter. They could be incorporated into a snack mix, a nut bar or a power shake for weightlifting. Snacks in vending machines at school could contain the peanuts. Labeling on products would need to state clearly that they are not for people with peanut allergies, Mr. McQuiston said.
Commercialization of the product, however, may be two years out.
“It’s a small company,” Mr. McQuiston said. “All of our resources are primarily focused on testing the technology and improving the technology and the science. I think it’s really two years out before we start thinking about commercializing the product.”
The process originated in research at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. The university licensed its patented, post-harvest technology to Alrgn Bio in 2014.
A study on the work at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University appeared in the March 2015 issue of Food Research International. The study investigated the effects of ultrasound-assisted alcalase treatments on the concentration of major allergenic proteins (Ara h 1 and Ara h 2) in roasted peanut kernels and the allergen characteristics of treated peanut extracts.
Alrgn Bio, after performing in vitro tests, now is sponsoring research on mice at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If the mice tests go well, human oral tests will follow.
Mr. McQuiston, who has a daughter that is allergic to peanuts, became involved with Alrgn Bio about two years ago and began investing in the company. His interest grew until he was named c.e.o. A real estate developer from New York, Mr. McQuiston said he also invests in new technology.
“I am shepherding the process to get the technology out into the world,” he said of the post-harvest peanut process.