Ruxolitinib: The Pill That Could Cure Alopecia Areata

Posted by Sarah

In this article: Hair Loss | Alopecia

Scientists in America have developed a pill that may cure hair loss from alopecia areata.

Identifying the cells that destroy hair follicles

Columbia University Medical Centre Successfully Trials Drug Ruxolitinib as Cure for Alopecia Areata

By identifying exactly which cells destroyed hair follicles - T-cell immune cells - scientists at the Columbia University Medical Centre in New York, were then able to test the efficacy of a range of treatments. Trials tested several drugs known to stop the destruction of these cells in mice, and all resulted in the hair growing back.

One of these drugs was ruxolitinib, which goes by the brand name of Jakafi in the US, usually prescribed to treat intermediate or high-risk myelofibrosis - a life-threatening bone marrow problem - it is also used in treating cancers and other inflammatory diseases. As with Xeljanz, the rheumatoid arthritis drug recently trialled for the treatment of Alopecia Universalis, ruxolitinib is a Janus kinase inhibitor, also known as a JAK inhibitor.

Trialling ruxolitinib on male alopecia sufferers

Researchers tested the FDA-approved drug, ruxolitinib on three male alopecia areata sufferers who were almost completely bald, by giving them the twice-daily pill to take.  Within four to five months, all three of the men had regrown a full head of hair. Results for one of the men studied are pictured here with considerable regrowth visible by the third month of taking the drug, and a full coverage presenting just a month later.

Pictured right: Top - Seen before the ruxolitinib drug treatment trial, the patient had lost almost all his hair to severe alopecia. Middle - By month 3 of the trial, the patient shows considerable regrowth. Bottom - After 4 months of taking ruxolitinib twice per day, the patient has a full head of hair again.

Side effects of ruxolitinib

Side effects in alopecia areata sufferers are as yet unknown, however, the side effects commonly associated with ruxolitinib when taken for myelofibrosis conditions range from black, tarry stools and bladder pain, to bleeding gums, blood in the urine or stools, and large, flat, blue or purplish patches in the skin.

Further tests are now due to be carried out in the hope that ruxolitinib could become a standard treatment for alopecia in the future. Whilst ruxolitinib could potentially successfully treat alopecia areata, this does not mean it could also cure other hair loss conditions, such as male pattern baldness.

Columbia's medical team discuss findings

Dr Raphael Clynes of Columbia University, who took part in the study, said: ‘We’ve only begun testing the drug in patients, but if the drug continues to be successful and safe, it will have a dramatic positive impact on the lives of people with this disease.'

Professor Angela Christiano, another of the study's authors added: ‘Patients with alopecia areata are suffering profoundly, and these findings mark a significant step forward for them. The team is fully committed to advancing new therapies for patients with a vast unmet need.’

As a practising dermatologist at Columbia University, Professor David Bickers has treated many patients with alopecia. He said of the breakthrough: ‘There are few tools in the arsenal for the treatment of alopecia areata that have any demonstrated efficacy. This is a major step forward in improving the standard of care for patients suffering from this devastating disease.’

Funmi Lampejo, Pharmacy Manager at The Belgravia Centre advised, 'Ruxolitinib belongs to the same class of drugs, (JAK-inhibitors) as another drug which was recently found to be effective in some cases of Alopecia Universalis, tofacitinib. 

Both drugs are licensed by the FDA for conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to myelofibrosis but only ruxolitinib is licensed in Europe at the moment. Ruxolitinib has a greater range of licensed applications compared to tofacitinib.

Neither drug is licensed for the treatment of alopecia although both have showed promising results in treating alopecia of suspected autoimmune origin. It is doubtful that they will be effective in treating androgenetic alopecia but it's early days yet. Whether either drug is used to treat Alopecia Areata or Universalis will depend on its efficacy in clinical trials for these conditions, and the benefit-risk ratio eg considering effectiveness balanced against severity and incidence of adverse effects.

It would be wonderful if a new treatment could be found for these conditions which can be very distressing and debilitating for patients'.

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Posted by Sarah

In this article: Hair Loss | Alopecia

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