A common arthritis drug which is already prescribed on the NHS appears to stop the loss or pigmentation caused by vitiligo
The skin condition vitiligo could be cured with a common arthritis drug already being prescribed on the NHS, scientists at Yale believe.
The condition, which leads to the loss of pigmentation on the skin, affects around 650,000 people in Britain including presenter Richard Hammond, comedian Graham Norton and Kara Tointon, the actress.
But Yale University has shown that the drug tofacitinib, which is currently prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, can clear up the problem.
A 53-year-old patient with prominent white spots covering her face, hands, and body was given the drug for five months and found the condition virtually disappeared. Only a few spots remained on her body, and all had gone from her face and hands.
“While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this patient based on our current understanding of the disease and how the drug works,” said Dr Brett King, assistant professor of dermatology and principal investigator of the research at Yale University, US.
“It’s a first, and it could revolutionize treatment of an awful disease.
“This may be a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition.”
A 53-year-old woman before and after five months of treatment Credit: Dr Brett King
Dr King is now hoping to begin a wider clinical trial into the effectiveness of using tofacitinib or a similar medicine, ruxolitinib, for the treatment of vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a common, psychologically devastating condition that causes skin to lose its pigmentation and current treatments, such as steroid creams and light therapy, are only partially effective in reverse the problem.
Last year Dr King showed that tofacitinib could be used to treat alopecia which is caused when the body’s own immune system becomes confused and starts to attack hair follicles. However tofacitinib stops the chemical pathway that triggers that immune response allowing hair to grow back.
Because vitiligo is caused by a similar immune response, which destroys pigment-forming cells known as melanocytes, researchers speculated that the same treatment should work to restore colour.
“This case exemplifies the ways by which advances in basic science can guide treatment decisions and ultimately benefit patients,” added Dr King.
“As we better understand the mechanisms of different diseases, targeted therapy becomes possible, and existing medications can be repurposed and/or new medications created for diseases with limited, if any, treatment options.”
The most well-known sufferer of the condition was Michael Jackson, but actor Jon Hamm has also spoken about developing the skin condition due to the stress of filming Mad Men.
Professor David Gawkrodger, a spokesman for the British Skin Foundation Spokesperson, said the research was ‘promising’ but warned it was too soon for patients to be demanding Tofacitinib from their doctors.
“In vitiligo immune and cell growth factors are involved hence it is not surprising that the vitiligo in the patient described has improved.
“The janus kinase inhibitor group of drugs are still being evaluated and may have significant side-effects so, although this is a promising observation therapeutically, that may also tell us something about the causation of vitiligo, it is too soon for patient to demand these drugs from their dermatologists.
“The drugs may well be a pointer to how vitiligo will be managed in the future, but further evaluation by dermatologists, the pharmaceutical industry and regulators is needed.”