Immune-related conditions are a cause of great distress for people for whom the outcome is very visible, and treatment options are often scant and cobbled together from a collection of treatment options.
A new class of drugs is being tested called Janus kinase inhibitors – or JAK inhibitors. Studies have demonstrated the ability of these drugs to disrupt the immune system response that causes these three conditions.
Alopecia areata is a condition whereby the entire body loses its hair either partially or fully. Atopic dermatitis – also known as eczema – causes a hefty itch and rash. Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder whereby melanocytes (our pigment-producing cells) appear to die off, leaving the skin without pigment (colour) in patches. On the inside, these conditions are all driven by the immune system, with trials showing positive results for all three conditions.
JAK inhibitors were first approved in the US to treat rheumatoid arthritis and bone marrow diseases, however researchers used these drugs in mice to successfully treat alopecia areata, prompting further informal trials. The doctors researching JAK inhibitors tried the drug out in patients with eczema and vitiligo, under off-label prescribing, with significant improvements in symptoms.
JAK inhibitors are not currently FDA approved for treating eczema, alopecia areata or vitiligo, but large scale trials are already underway so more patients can benefit from these drugs. Once approved for use globally, these drugs could completely change how these three skin conditions are treated.
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