University Of Chicago Students, Scholars Work On Cure For Peanut Allergy

CBS 2's Jim Williams reports their effort is getting a big boost thanks to a college competition.

Video Transcript

- Possible breakthrough today that could help millions of people with dangerous food allergies. Some students here in Chicago are working to develop a vaccine. CBS 2's Jim Williams reports their effort is getting a big boost thanks to a college competition.

JIM WILLIAMS: It's the great fear of parents of children with peanut allergies that their kids might be put into harm's way at the lunch hour. Here on the campus of the University of Chicago, Professor Jeff Hubbell and a team of researchers and students are making strides to fight that and other food allergies.

JEFF HUBBELL: Here, we're trying to develop a therapy that would be like a vaccine. You have it done, and then it's done. And then your food allergy is taken care of. That's our objective.

JIM WILLIAMS: A vaccine being developed by Professor Hubbell's year-old startup company Phlaxis. He's joined by researcher Shejie Cao, U of C grad student Kikaru Ihara, and undergraduate Josette Chang.

JOSETTE CHANG: There's 32 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, and every three minutes, one of them gets sent to the ER. There's no cure, but a cure for food allergies would be life changing.

JIM WILLIAMS: They so impressed judges at the University of Chicago's new Venture Challenge, they won second place last week in that competition for promising businesses. NVC co-founder and U of C professor, Steve Kaplan.

STEVE KAPLAN: Our judges who knew life sciences and biotech thought it was the best biotech plan we have ever had in the new Venture Challenge.

JIM WILLIAMS: It's painstaking work, probing the action of molecules.

Make me very happy that we see the potential of our technology.

JIM WILLIAMS: Potential, but not yet ready for market.

A lot of parents are going to watch this and say, my goodness, my child can't even be around a peanut butter sandwich, let alone consume it. How close are we?

JEFF HUBBELL: We're many years away. Six, seven, eight years away. We hope to be in a clinical study in three, four years.

JIM WILLIAMS: Still, a promising development for millions with food allergies.

JEFF HUBBELL: But we think the opportunity here is very high, and we're really committed to drive it forward and find out if we're on to something or not.

JIM WILLIAMS: Second place in the new Venture Challenge means the company wins an investment of nearly $300,000 as the University of Chicago's scientific community and business scholars team up in an effort to change the lives of millions. We're live, Jim Williams. CBS 2 News.