Xeljanz: Arthritis Drug Treating Untreatable Eczema

Patients with moderate to severe eczema have been successfully treated, by Yale School of Medicine researchers, using a rheumatoid arthritis drug recently shown to reverse two other disfiguring skin conditions, vitiligo and alopecia areata. The findings provide evidence of a possible new era in eczema treatment, they say.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic condition causing severe itching. It leaves the skin red and thickened and can adversely affect sleep and quality of life. Conventional treatments, such as steroid creams and oral medicines, typically fail to relieve symptoms in patients with moderate to severe eczema.

Yale assistant professor of dermatology Brett King, M.D. hypothesized that a drug already approved for rheumatoid arthritis, tofacitinib citrate (trade name Xeljanz), would disrupt the immune response that causes eczema.

In the study, treatment with the drug led to significant improvement in six patients with moderate to severe eczema who had previously tried conventional therapies unsuccessfully. All six patients spoke of dramatic reduction in itch as well as improved sleep. Redness and thickening of the skin diminished, as well.

“These individuals were not only very happy with the results, they also expressed a tremendous sense of relief at being comfortable in their skin for the first time in many years,” King said.

In previous work, King and fellow Yale dermatologist Brittany Craiglow, M.D. showed that Xeljanz regrows hair in patients with an autoimmune-related form of hair loss called alopecia areata. Additionally, they reported the successful treatment of a patient with vitiligo, which can leave widespread irregular white patches all over the body.

The researchers stress that further research is still needed to verify the treatment’s long-term efficacy and safety for eczema patients.

Lauren L. Levy, Jennifer Urban, Brett A. King
Treatment of recalcitrant atopic dermatitis with the oral Janus kinase inhibitor tofacitinib citrate
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2015.06.045