Clinical trials on FDA-approved drugs for other conditions have been shown to restore hair growth in some patients with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have identified the immune cells responsible for destroying the hair follicles in people with alopecia, and set out to test FDA-approved drugs that would eliminate these immune cells to see if they would restore hair growth in patients.
Alopecia is a common autoimmune disease that can occur at any age. Hair is often lost in patches on the scalp, but in some cases patients can have total loss of facial and body hair. There are no known treatments that can restore hair growth. People with alopecia often suffer significant psychological stress and emotional suffering.
Scientists have known for a while that hair loss in alopecia occurs when cells from the immune system attack the base of the hair follicle, which causes the hair to fall out and not regrow. It wasn’t until four years ago that a researcher suggested a “danger signal” in the hair follicles of patients with alopecia attracts the immune cells to the follicle and triggers the attack.
Further research identified the specific set of T cells responsible for attacking the hair follicles, which led to more insight into how the T cells are instructed to attack, leading to the identification of several key immune pathways that could be targeted by a new class of medications known as JAK inhibitors.
Researchers then separately tested in laboratory mice two FDA approved JAK inhibitors – ruxolitinib, sold under the brand name Jakafi and used to treat a blood or bone marrow condition called myelofibrosis, and tofacitinib, known by the brand name Xeljanz, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Both drugs restored hair on the mice within 12 weeks. The effect of the medication was also long-lasting, persisting for several months after treatment.
Researchers then took the study to humans with moderate to severe alopecia. Initial results from an ongoing clinical trial using ruxolitinib showed the drug produced complete hair regrowth in several patients.
“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,” said Raphael Clynes, MD, PhD, who led the research, along with Angela M. Christiano, PhD, professor in the Departments of Dermatology and of Genetics and Development at CUMC.
Source: Pharm Pro