Vitiligo Patient’s Skin Color Restored By Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug

Skin color in a patient suffering from vitiligo has been restored using a medication for treating rheumatoid arthritis, dermatologists at Yale School of Medicine report.

The late pop star Michael Jackson suffered from the disfiguring condition.

Current treatments for this common, psychologically devastating condition that causes skin to lose its pigmentation or color, such as steroid creams and light therapy, are not reliably effective in reversing the disease.

Recent findings among vitiligo researchers led Yale scientists to consider an existing type of FDA-approved medications known as Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, as a potential treatment.

In 2014, Brett King, M.D., principal investigator of the study, made news when he published a paper showing the effectiveness of the JAK inhibitor tofacitinib citrate  (Xeljanz®) in treating hair loss caused by alopecia areata.

King and co-author Brittany Craiglow, M.D. thought the same medicine could perhaps be effective for vitiligo.

King and Craiglow administered tofacitinib to a 53-year-old patient with prominent white spots covering her face, hands, and body to test the theory. For more than a year prior to taking tofacitinib, the numbers of her white spots had been growing.

The patient experienced partial repigmentation on her face, arms, and hands—the areas that concerned her most within two months of treatment.

After five months, the white spots on her face and hands were almost gone, with only a few spots remaining on other parts of her body. Amazingly, tofacitinib caused no adverse side effects during the course of treatment.

“While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this patient based on our current understanding of the disease and how the drug works,” said King.

King cautioned that further research is necessary to substantiate the drug’s safety and efficacy. He referred to work by University of Massachusetts Medical Center dermatologist and scientist John Harris as the inspiration for trying tofacitinib in this patient.

“It’s a first, and it could revolutionize treatment of an awful disease,” said King. “This may be a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition.”

King looks forward to conducting a clinical trial using tofacitinib, or a similar medicine, ruxolitinib, for the treatment of vitiligo.

Brittany G. Craiglow; Brett A. King, MD, PhD
Tofacitinib Citrate for the Treatment of VitiligoA Pathogenesis-Directed Therapy
JAMA Dermatol. Published online June 24, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.1520