Working to Take
the Fear Out of Food
First, she battled her daughter’s horrific food allergies. Now, Kim Yates is fighting on behalf of other affected families, creating a new model of the allergy clinic, one that serves a rare delicacy: immediate action.
After watching her 1-year-old daughter nearly die from an allergic reaction to something she ate, Kim Yates knew something had to change for her child. By the fourth near-fatal incident, she knew something had to change for all people with food allergies.
Above: Latitude Founder & CEO Kim Yates
Yates, a Menlo Park mom of three girls, is not a scientist, doctor, or serial entrepreneur. But her passion to provide people of all ages with correct allergy diagnoses and, when possible, effective treatment has led to something groundbreaking: a clinic focused 100% on food allergy, offering the latest Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) treatment, 24/7 patient care, and a clinical model that enables fast access to “food challenge” testing that can take an average of 4-6 months to schedule in a traditional setting.
Latitude, the Redwood City-based clinic, began seeing patients in September and boasts a medical advisory board filled with heavy hitters from the allergy world, as well as business advisors that include executives from Amazon, Lyft, and Sutter Health, among other big-name organizations.
One in 12 American children under the age of 21 and one in about 50 adults is affected by a doctor-diagnosed food allergy. Of those individuals, approximately 25% will have a near-fatal anaphylactic reaction at some point in their lives. The United States spends an estimated $25 billion annually on reactive food allergy care.
Family Nurse Practitioner Jamie Saxena
Yates is in a unique position to help change these sobering statistics. Her oldest daughter, Tessa Grosso, now 16, was just 6 months old when she was diagnosed with a staggering array of allergies, including dairy, wheat, eggs, nuts, and soy, among others. These weren’t just stomachache/hives food “sensitivities”; they were life-threatening, life-altering allergies.
Danger seemed to lurk at every turn. “Our first visit to the hospital came when Tessa was 9 months old,” Yates recalls. “She was at a birthday party and was crawling on the floor when she found a Goldfish cracker some kid had dropped and ate it.” The risks were so great that the family had to lobby for Tessa to have a full-time aide with her at school until 2nd grade, after which she continued to have a chaperone on the playground and at lunch.
Tessa was about 8 when her mom attended a talk at Stanford that would start to change everything. The speaker was renowned allergy and asthma expert Kari Nadeau, MD, Ph.D., who was working on a protocol to treat food allergies through OIT, an allergy treatment in which patients are dosed daily with tiny amounts of the foods that cause their allergic reactions. Over time, the dose is gradually increased until the patient can tolerate normal quantities of the food. “I went up to her afterwards and asked her what could be done for patients like Tessa, with multiple severe food allergies,” Yates recalls. “She said nothing yet, but she promised she would figure it out.
Above: The Latitude leadership and on-site team, including, from left, Saxena, Co-Founder Debbie Chizever Taback, COO Jung Park, Yates, Board of Directors Chairman Mike Kaplan, office manager Suzie Mardini, and allergist Dr. Rani Maskatia.
“Then I asked her what she needed, and she said, ‘Resources.’ Honestly I was so naïve I thought she meant things like supplies for the hospital,” Yates continues, laughing. “She said, ‘No, I need money.’”
What Yates lacked in formal fundraising experience she made up for in passion, energy, and a valuable ability to relate to families who might become future OIT recipients as well as donors. She led a volunteer coalition that successfully raised the money needed to fund the first study of a combination multi-food-allergy therapy, and in December 2014, Tessa began receiving shots of the asthma drug Xolair, meant to suppress a critical antibody in anaphylaxis known as IgE. The following month, she was started on OIT micro-dosing for the foods she and her family once feared. “Within four months, she could eat a serving size of those foods,” Yates recalls, the awe still distinct in her voice even four years later.
Tessa was the first to complete the trial, but hundreds of patients followed, garnering global attention and leading to the development of the Sean M. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford, which Nadeau now runs.
All told, Yates’ community building efforts on behalf of Stanford (at first unofficially and then as a Special Advisor to the Parker Center, a role she maintains today) has helped raise more than $80 million for the university’s allergy research and treatment efforts. It also helped Yates herself develop strong ties to communities of specialists and allergy sufferers around the country.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of people,” she says, “and they all want access to this type of treatment. But Stanford is set up for clinical research, not clinical care. Latitude was born of the frustration that we couldn’t treat all of these people at Stanford—the frustration of people having nowhere to go.”
Even families with the means to enroll in the Stanford trial can run into roadblocks if the trial term ends before the desensitization process has reached the desired level, as was the case with young Brody Carroll of Phoenix, whose father Chuck now sits on Latitude’s advisory board. Brody’s severe allergies to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and several other foods were diagnosed when he was 11 months old after a terrifying episode on Mother’s Day when Chuck and his wife Michele gave him a taste of an egg-coated pasta dish.
Latitude aims to create a warm, calming environment in which patients are free to socialize, roam around, and relax while receiving treatment.
Brody was selected for the Stanford OIT trial in July 2017, but by the end of the allotted time, his allergies hadn’t made the progress Chuck and Michele had hoped for. Fortunately, they had formed a relationship with Yates through her work at the Parker Center, and she told them about her idea for a new type of clinic.
“On our flight back to Phoenix that evening, I found myself feeling more and more excited about Kim’s vision for her then-unnamed company,” shares Chuck, the Chief Investment Officer at investment advisory firm TFO Phoenix. “It wasn’t just that her vision might provide a greatly needed solution for our family. I thought about all of the families around the country on waiting lists at research facilities like the Parker Center, all the families who are so desperately hoping to escape the ‘avoid, wait, and hope’ approach that is so commonly prescribed for food allergies, and how great it would be for those families to have access to the treatments that were being developed at leading research institutions like Stanford.”
The Carrolls were among Latitude’s early investors and transferred Brody, now 8, to the clinic when it opened its doors this fall. Thanks to continued OIT, he can now tolerate about seven times the amount of egg and tree nuts that he was able to ingest at the end of the Stanford clinical trial, Chuck says. He adds, “What we see in Latitude is a rare combination of two things that are so important to families who are affected by food allergies: 1) The potential to bring freedom to those families through evidence-based treatments developed at leading research institutions, and 2) Providing those treatments in an environment where patient care is paramount. A place where the founders and staff truly care about their patients and understand what it’s like to wrestle with the daily challenges of food allergies.”
Yates and Mike Kaplan, the founder and managing director of Altos Health Management and one of the earliest supporters of Yates’ vision.
The Latitude model—which Yates hopes to see replicated in cities around the country—is one that offers expanded options not only to patients and their families, but to its medical team as well. Allergy specialist Rani Maskatia, MD, came on board after working in private practice at an allergy clinic in Palo Alto, lured by the rare opportunity to focus entirely on food allergies. The traditional clinic setting offers only limited space and time to do food challenges, she notes, despite the fact that those tests are the best way to ensure proper diagnosis and empower patients with accurate information about their health.
“Since we’re just starting out, I’m able to devote time to every patient and family,” Maskatia said of Latitude in a November interview. “We’re also able to see and treat people quickly. We had a patient this morning who has chosen to start OIT, and we were able to give him the first dose right here today. People are tired of waiting and doing nothing.”
Both Yates and Maskatia are quick to stress that they don’t see themselves as being in competition with regular allergy clinics. Instead, they hope to work in collaboration to ensure patients are receiving the best, most advanced, custom-tailored care.
Yates with her three daughters, Alyssa, Tessa, and Reese, at their Menlo Park home.
Yates has delighted in the reactions she’s seen so far among patients and their families, many of whom had given up hope that life could be different. Equally important to her has been the close involvement of her three daughters: Tessa, Reese, and Alyssa. “All my kids have been involved with building this company,” she says proudly.
Looking back on her family’s own often-harrowing journey, Yates recalls a heartbreaking comment Tessa made at a very young age about her desire to be allergy-free. “She said, ‘Mom, I don’t even care if I can eat the food; I just don’t want to be scared anymore.’”
“That fear is so much of what’s driving me,” Yates continues. “What I’ve learned is you can be a mom on a mission and make headway.”
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