Athritis drug found to be ‘miracle’ cure for hair loss

Patients with hair loss have a reason to smile after a drug to restore growth was approved in the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration this week approved baricitinib, which is made by United State pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.

The oral drug regrows hair by blocking the immune system from attacking follicles.

It is already on the market and is used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. A dose goes for Sh1,500-2,500.

From study findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine that involved 1,200 patients with severe Alopecia areata and hair loss, about 40 per cent who took the drug had complete or near-complete hair regrowth after 36 weeks. After a year, nearly half of the patients had their hair back.

Dr Brett King, a dermatology professor at Yale University and the principal investigator for the trial, said the findings will be a game-changer in the treatment of hair loss. The participating patients suffered relatively mild side effects, including increased risk of acne, urinary tract infections and other infections.

The side effects were easily treatable or improved without treatment.

The study represented the first published phase 3 trials of any treatment for this condition. Alopecia affects the scalp or entire body, and it can be temporary or permanent. It can be a result of heredity, hormonal changes, medical conditions, or a normal part of ageing. Anyone can lose hair on the head, but it’s more common in men.

The condition occurs when white blood cells attack the cells in hair follicles, causing them to shrink and dramatically slow down hair production. What exactly causes the body’s immune system to target hair follicles this way is unknown.

The main symptom of alopecia is hair loss affecting just one or two small patches of hair. It can continue to spread until there is no hair left on the head or body.

The disease varies in severity, but for some, it can be life-altering, with a total loss of body hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows. This is the first drug for hair loss. Before, those with hair loss relied on unapproved creams, cosmetic solutions and injections to manage their condition and grow back their hair.

“Access to safe and effective treatment options is crucial for the affected patients. The drug will help fulfill a significant unmet need for patients with severe hair loss,” Dr King said.

Severe hair loss not only “robs a person of their identity” but also causes allergies and hearing problems when people lose hair in their nose and ears.

“This is a miracle,” Dr King said.

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