If you’re lucky and do not have an allergy yourself, you might know someone who has. But what is causing it? Could it be partly due to foreign molecules in the everyday medicine?

The number of people with allergies is indeed increasing, with more and more being oversensitive to e.g. perfume, various foods and chemicals. One of the main theories is the “hygiene hypothesis”, which suggests that children’s immune systems are not trained enough today due to fewer germs everywhere.

Other research states that the increase in allergy and asthma could be related to an increase in obesity, raise in use of antibiotics, or even vitamin D deficiency.

However, a fifth contender could be contributing to the increase in allergies as well: Impure medicine.

The foreign molecules in your medicine

A vast part of today’s medicine, and therefore perhaps also the ones you take, are based on proteins. Proteins can be produced to take on desired forms and functions. In that way, medicine is becoming more and more targeted, since it can be custom-made to treat only the tissue/organ that needs it.

To produce specialized proteins, simple organisms like yeast and bacteria are often used. That makes it possible to produce the desired protein fast and at a relatively low price – because the production process often only takes hours.

The drawback of this type of medicine manufacturing is the by-products that arise during production of the specific protein. As the desired protein, they are native to the host cell (bacteria or yeast). Therefore, they are named Host Cell Proteins (HCPs). The medicine company will remove as many as these HCPs as possible to ensure that the patient receives a clean product.

Governmental agencies, such as FDA (USA) or EMA (Europe), require control of all products before release to patients, but is that enough? It is becoming more and more clear that their current approved way for host cell protein detection is not that accurate.

Thus, allergies might occur over time, since foreign particles will receive an immune response when entering the body. Now you might wonder what the solution is.

What you should demand from medicine producers

With an old-school way of checking HCP levels, medicine with more HCPs than necessary is currently administered to patients. The current analysis, called ELISA, cannot detect small HCPs, determine which distinctive HCPs are present in the drug, or their exact amount. Therefore, since it is impossible to detect all HCP it is also impossible to remove these HCPs. So how can you be sure that the patient is safe and does not have side effects, such as allergies, years after the medicine intake ends?

Luckily, a new approach for HCP detection is already here. Mass spectrometry, which is also used to e.g. determine the content of food, is highly sensitive and can detect even the smallest molecules. Furthermore, this method gives out the exact amount of each specific HCP and its chemical properties.

Each HCP can then be removed by optimizing the drug cleaning process. However, FDA and EMA have not yet required that this method is used for documentation of HCP for every drug release. Hopefully, they will make this requirement soon as this could help bring down the increasing cases of allergies and overall improve all medicine.