"I've been working on the pill for nearly 10 years," says Hoon Sunwoo, an associate professor at the University of Alberta who made headlines last week for creating a pill which allows those suffering from Celiac disease or severe gluten intolerance to consume bread, beer, and more without any adverse effects. Those who have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, often face adverse reactions when they consume gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — like diarrhea and vomiting. Sunwoo's pill works by harnessing naturally occurring antibodies found in egg yolks which coat the gluten and prevent it from being absorbed by the small intestine.
Say good-bye to awful, densely textured gluten-free bread
Sun has been researching the antibodies in egg yolks for over two decades, but it wasn't until eleven years ago that he decided to apply his research towards creating this pill. He was inspired by a friend with Celiac disease with whom he couldn't enjoy a beer. "I didn't know much about what Celiac was and why gluten-containing foods induced those awful symptoms. So I started to study the disease," he tells Eater. The pill allows users to eat gluten for an hour or two without any consequences. While companies have developed gluten-free versions of many foods, this pill will make it so that those with gluten-intolerances are no longer limited to those options.
The pill recently completed its first round of clinical trials in Canada and will enter into a second round of trials next summer. Sunwoo says that in the second clinical trial — a human efficacy trial — will include nearly 100 Celiac sufferers, and may take place in two cities for a larger, more diverse sample size. The trial will last between six to eight months. After that, it must be approved by the Public Health Agency of Canada before it can hit shelves — hopefully by 2017.
The FDA will have to approve the pill before it can be sold in the U.S.
To be sold in America, the pill will have to undergo another clinical trial in the U.S. and be approved by the FDA before it can enter the marketplace. Sunwoo estimates that will likely happen one to two years later. Most notably, Sunwoo says that the pill — which is made from powdered egg yolk — will be sold as a natural supplement. No prescription necessary.
Dr. Mary Higgins, an associate human nutrition professor at Kansas State University, tells Eater she would recommend people with Celiac disease discuss the pill with their doctors if it does come to market. Higgins adds that there is definitely a need for this type of pill: "People with celiac disease currently cannot safely eat foods that contain even minuscule amounts of gluten. This pill could be a wonderful product to use, for example, on occasions when they are traveling and must eat away from home."
Dr. Ahmad Cheema — a gastroenterologist based in Davenport, Iowa — agrees with Higgins. He tells Eater that if the trials prove the "safety and efficacy" of the pill, he would definitely recommend it to his patients with Celiac disease. Ahmad notes that he has never seen a product like it before and that it is "very much needed" by the market.