A large part of the medical industry is drug research. Sure, doctors have to know how to diagnose and effectively treat disease, but much of the money that exchanges hands in this business has to do with pharmaceutical sales.
With that, though, those who research and develop treatments are constantly searching not only for the newest drugs that can address the most dire needs, but also looking for more ways to expand the viability of drugs they have. Sometimes they make these discoveries intentionally—by testing the drug in a variety of environments—and sometimes they make these discoveries completely by accident.
Regardless of how they figured it out, researchers are now saying that a drug which has been developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis may also have a positive effect on the autoimmune disease known as alopecia areata. Alopecia areata, of course, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in baldness.
According to researchers, the arthritis drug tofacitinib citrate—under the brand name “Xeljanz”—has been shown to prevent the immune malfunction. Perhaps more importantly, lead researcher Dr. Brett King says that they have also identified the genes that may help predict how well a patient might respond to the treatment.
The Yale School of Medicine assistant professor goes on to say that they currently doubt the drug will work for the most common type of hair loss (male pattern baldness) because that is not caused by an autoimmune disorder. And whether or not the regrown hair will last—or how long a person may have to take the medication—is not yet known.
He comments, “It may be that if we can treat people for long enough the condition might go into remission, but we don’t know the answer to that.” Obviously, it is still too early to tell.
Still, as far as the study is concerned, King (and colleagues) note that patients were treated only with 5 mg of Xiljanz twice a day for the whole of three months. He says that over that period, more than half of the patients experienced some hair regrowth. Also, more than one-third recovered more than half of the hair they had lost on their heads.
Perhaps, the best news: King said the side effects were mild.
This could open a new avenue not only for the drug but also for drug research and development, as we continue to learn more about genomics and the treatment of auto-immune disease.