Regulators have given the green light to the first alopecia treatment shown to regrow hair.
Trials have shown that taking the daily pill can almost completely reverse the condition that causes hair to fall out in clumps.
Called baricitinib, the drug is already in use on the NHS for a number of conditions, including arthritis, dermatitis and even severe covid-19. It works by interrupting faulty signals that cause the immune system to attack hair follicles.
NHS spending chiefs will now review baricitinib and decide whether the health service will fund the alopecia treatment.
Charities and doctors celebrated the news, calling on the NHS to pay patients with the most severe form of alopecia to receive baricitinib as soon as possible.
“This is a really important step in the right direction for a group of patients who until now had no effective treatment options,” says Sue Schilling, chief executive of the Alopecia UK charity.
“Alopecia is an incredibly debilitating condition that leaves people depressed, anxious and sometimes even suicidal. The NHS needs to fund this so that patients can receive it for free.
HIGH PROFILE: Actress Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia condition
Trials have shown that taking a daily pill can almost completely reverse alopecia that causes hair to fall out in clumps.
Dr Paul Farrant, Consultant Dermatologist at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, says: “Given the clear benefits, it is likely that people with the most severe form of alopecia will soon be able to access baricitinib.”
Alopecia is the term used to describe hair loss, which affects approximately 40% of women and 30% of men at some point in their lives.
Around 100,000 Britons have a condition called alopecia areata, in which cells of the immune system attack hair follicles for reasons that are not understood. Over a period of weeks, the hair begins to come out in clumps, resulting in bald patches. Some people also lose eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair on other parts of the body.
The Matrix actress Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from the condition, which came to global attention in April when Oscars host comedian Chris Rock made a joke about it and her husband, Will Smith, slapped her in the face. scenery.
Steroid treatments can be prescribed, either as a cream, as an injection into the scalp, or as pills, and are effective in one in five patients. But taking steroid pills long-term can dramatically increase the risk of serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, so doctors recommend that patients stop taking them after six weeks. Steroid creams can irritate the skin and cause painful migraines.
Baricitinib, part of a family of drugs called JAK inhibitors, can be taken daily and continued indefinitely. Side effects are usually minimal because, unlike steroids, this medication does not attack healthy immune cells.
Studies show that for a third of patients, baricitinib causes hair to regrow within three months and continues to grow again. Patients who respond to treatment see 80 percent of their hair regain. Some dermatology clinics are already offering baricitinib to patients, at a cost of £1,000 a month, and charities are concerned the high price is forcing many to buy the drug abroad.
Baricitinib, part of a family of drugs called JAK inhibitors, can be taken daily and continued indefinitely.
“We’ve heard of a number of people buying it overseas and taking it without medical supervision,” says Schilling.
‘Taking a drug like this in large doses can be dangerous, especially without control. This could be avoided if the treatment is available on the NHS.’
Dr. Farrant says that he has administered baricitinib to more than 30 patients. “For those who do respond, the effects can be transformative,” he says. ‘They go from having no hair to having full hair.’
One patient who will benefit from baricitinib is Tyson Braun, 37, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. He started losing his hair at the age of 25 after suffering from the flu. “At first, it was just patches on my beard,” he says. ‘Then my hair was growing out of my head too. Within a year I had no hair anywhere on my body.’
Tyson tried various treatments without success. Then, two months ago, he was prescribed baricitinib.
He says: ‘I’m already growing hair on my face, where I used to have a beard. And there is even a little in my head.
‘Every day there seems to be more. I never expected to have hair again. My two children have only known me as bald. ‘It’ll take some explaining when it grows even more.’