New Arthritis Drug Reverses Baldness from Alopecia AreataJuly 8th, 2014
Could a recently FDA-approved drug for rheumatoid arthritis also be a cure for a common type of hair loss called alopecia areata? The drug is called Xeljanz, and that’s what Dr. Brett King, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale, is hoping.
Dr. King’s patient, Kyle Rhodes, was diagnosed with alopecia totalis, the extensive variation of the auto-immune condition called alopecia areata that involves one’s entire scalp and body hair. By age 18, this condition had caused Kyle to lose all the hair on his head and body. He was also diagnosed with plaque psoriasis, a condition characterized by scaly red patches of skin.
While Dr. King was reviewing the research literature on tofacitinib citrate (Xeljanz), he discovered that the drug had been used to treat psoriasis in people and alopecia (hair loss) in mice, so he decided to try Xeljanz on Kyle’s condition.
The results were exactly what Dr. King hoped: after two months on the drug, Kyle’s psoriasis improved, and his hair started to return to his scalp and face. After five months, his scalp hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and facial hair were clearly visible. By eight months, his facial and scalp hair had fully returned.
Dr. King believes Xeljanz could be a major breakthrough in treating a disease that up till now has had few good treatment options.
This isn’t the first time a successful drug treatment for hair loss has been discovered serendipitously: oral minoxidil (later developed into the topical medication Rogaine) was first used as a treatment for high blood pressure, but it is now used as an FDA-approved topical treatment for androgenetic alopecia by both men and women.
Xeljanz, however, currently taken in pill form, isn’t an FDA-approved treatment for alopecia areata; further, it has some potentially serious side effects that could limit its use if it does become approved.
In order to reduce the possibility of those side effects, Dr. King is in the process of creating a topical form of Xeljanz a patient can use at the site of hair loss rather than take an oral medication. By applying a cream form of Xeljanz directly on the scalp, this would limit the drug from entering the blood stream in significant quantities and thus causing systemic side effects.
As a first step to getting FDA-approval, Dr. King has submitted a proposal to begin clinical trials that will use a cream form of Xeljanz.