A rare autoimmune disorder causes hair to fall out suddenly, sometimes in clumps. Now, there is a treatment.
Baricitinib was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. It is a once-a day pill that Eli Lilly developed to treat alopecia. This is an autoimmune condition that causes sudden hair loss. The FDA approved the drug in 2018 for rheumatoid and other conditions.
This drug, part of a group of medicines called JAK inhibitors, is the first to be approved in the United States. It treats the condition which, according the FDA, affects more 300,000 Americans each year.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people with autoimmune diseases can experience hair loss around their scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, although it can occur at any age, most people get it in their teens or early childhood.
Alopecia gained national attention recently after Will Smith famously slapped Chris Rock during the Oscars. Smith made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith Smith's wife who has a different type of the condition than that treated with Eli Lilly's drug.
Baricitinib is a natural way to regrow hair. It works by blocking the body's immune system attacking hair follicles.
One phase three clinical trial involving 1,200 patients suffering from severe alopecia wereata found that approximately 40% of those who received daily 4-milligram doses of the drug had their hair regrown after 36 weeks.
This compares to the approximately 20 percent who received a 2-milligram lower dose of the drug, and less than 6 per cent of those in the placebo group.
The drug was found to reduce hair loss by at least 50% in participants.
According to Dr. Brett King of Yale, the drug is a breakthrough treatment for patients with autoimmune disorders. He was also the principal investigator in the two trials. Many people hide their condition by wearing scarves or wigs.
He said, "It is a terrible disease." Try to picture yourself waking up with a spot. Imagine your hair disappearing three weeks, three months, or three decades later.
Dr. Luis Garza is a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine dermatologist who treats patients with alopecia. He said that he has seen patients leave their jobs and avoid public places because of the stress of losing their hair. He wasn't involved in the research to develop the drug.
People with this condition have had limited options. They used to rely on unproven creams and steroid injections to try to reverse it. Garza, who studies hair loss, stated that there were not many options.
He said that people can also take JAK inhibitors ruxolitinib and tofacitinib for alopecia. However, they are not approved or recommended by the FDA. They can't be prescribed off-label and insurances don't often cover them. Patients can spend as much as $5,000 per month.
Garza stated that patients may be charged an "insurmountable" out-of-pocket expense.
Marlo Scott, a spokesperson from Eli Lilly, stated that the wholesale price for Eli Lilly's baricitinib was $2,497.20 for a 30-day supply (2-milligram) pills. She said that the company offers a program where people can pay $5 to $25 per month depending on whether they are covered by insurance.
According to the agency, the most common side effects of the drug are upper respiratory tract infections, high cholesterol and acne.
Garza stated that the medication might not be right for everyone. People who have an ongoing infection, cancer, or a history involving heart attack or stroke should talk to their doctor before taking the medication.
King, who was the primary investigator of the trials, said that similar drugs from Pfizer as well as Concert Pharmaceuticals are being developed to treat the condition. They could be approved by FDA in the next few years.