The New Scientist has been engaged in a great deal of hype about allergy cures recently. Odd for a respected magazine of science.
This week's is a report on the work of a company in Zurich. These people are trying to tweak the immune system to believe it is being attacked by organisms called mycobacteria. Apparently we do not encounter these very often.
They are reporting some success with initial trials of patients with house dust mite allergy and with pollen allergy. The question is whether this drug could be a permanent cure. Apparently its developers believe it could be.
However a few weeks ago the same magazine made a big deal of a guy who went to the British Association for the Advancement of Science's annual festival and talked about developing a vaccine within ten years. Maybe the Swiss people contacted them after that report.
Forgive my scepticism but long before I ever suspected I had a problem I knew a scientist who was developing an allergy vaccine. It was brilliant science but so far as I know never happened - even though a biotech company was set up to develop it.
The recent fiasco in London at Northwick Park Hospital where six human volunteers nearly died after taking an experimental immune system based drug highlights the problem.
The Swiss drug appears to have got beyond this stage but the reality is there is a whole spectrum of promising medical science around the immune system that is advancing much slower than was ever feared. It is because we are dealing with a massively complex, little understood system and tinkering with one bit can have unforeseen consequences - or simply prove a lot more difficult than thought.
I will post a link to the story when it is on-line.