Ruxolitinib offers hope for patients with alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune disease which causes hair loss and leads to mental anguish for millions of people. Researchers at Columbia University have tested ruxolitinib in three patients[1]. All these patients exhibited near-complete hair regrowth within 3 to 5 months of oral treatment.

Ruxolitinib is a JAK1/2 inhibitor developed by Incyte Pharmaceuticals and has been approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis. Scientists showed that a specific kind of T cells (CD8+NKG2D+) attack the hair follicle. JAK inhibitors such as tofacitinib and ruxolitinib prevent the expansion of these bad T cells.

Columbia’s scientists tested only systemic ruxolitinib treatment (orally, 20 mg twice daily) in human subjects with alopecia areata. However, topical administration of JAK inhibitors was similar to those of systemic delivery in mice model. Notably, the topical therapeutic effects were not the result of systemic absorption.

Columbia University has filed patents (PCT/US2011/059029 and PCT/US2013/034688) for the treatment of alopecia areata with small-molecule JAK inhibitors.

Alopecia areata is not life threatening, but it is life altering. We still need to do more testing to establish that JAK inhibitors are safe and effective for patients with alopecia areata. Columbia’s research is a good beginning.

[1] Nat Med. 2014, 20(9), 1043-1049.

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