CHICAGO (CBS) — A possible breakthrough that could help millions of people with dangerous food allergies.

Some students in Chicago are working to develop a vaccine.

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

It’s the great fear of parents of children with peanut allergies: That their kids might be put in harm’s way at the lunch hour.

On the campus of the University of Chicago, Professor Jeff Hubbell, a team of researchers and students are making strides to fight that and other food allergies.

“Here, we’re trying develop a therapy that would be like a vaccine,” Hubbell said. “You have it done, then it’s done and then the food allergy is taken care of. That’s our objective.”

A vaccine being developed by Professor Hubbell’s year-old start up company Phlaxis. He’s joined by researcher Shijie Cao, University of Chicago grad student Hikaru Ihara and undergraduate Josette Chang.

“There’s 32 million Americans who suffer from food allergies and every three minutes so one of them get sent to the ER. There’s no cure, but for food allergies, it would be life changing,” Chang said.

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 University of Chicago professor 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,” Kaplan said.

It’s painstaking work, probing the action of molecules.

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“It makes me very happy because we see the potential of our technology,” said Cao.

Potential, but not yet ready for market.

How close are they to a cure?

“We’re many years away, six, seven, eight years away. We hope to be in a clinical study in three, four years,” Hubbell said.

Still, a promising development for millions with food allergies.

“We think the opportunity here is very high,” Hubbell said. “And we’re really committed to drive it forward to find out if we’re onto something or not.”

Second place in the New Venure Challenge means the company wins an investment of nearly $300,000 as the scientific community and the business scholars at the University of Chicago join forces to possibly change the lives of millions.




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