Rare disease section: Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles, which develop hair. It affects around 1% – 2% of the population. There are several types of alopecia areata, for example, in some people the affection is just in the scalp, leaving just some specific areas, or patches, without hair. This patches usually have a specific round form. In other people, alopecia areata is seen in the whole body, leaving the patients without hair all over their skin. This is a severe form of alopecia areata. Among patients with this disease, there is no prediction of when the hair will fall or grow back again. In some people, hair falls for a period of time, and it grows back again, without knowing exactly when this cycle will happen. In other people, hair falls and it never grows back again.

There is currently no cure for the disease, but there are some drugs that have shown some efficacy in helping grow some hair. For instance, in some patients, steroids are injected below the surface of the skin to help stimulate hair growth. There are also some topical drugs, which are typically also steroids in nature, applied directly to the patches that lack hair, and there are also other techniques such as UV light therapy.

Nowadays, there are several drugs being researched for helping patients with this disease. They focus on inhibiting somehow the immune system, so that it stops attacking the patient’s own hair follicles. To mention one example, Pfizer is currently conducting clinical trials with the molecule “PF-06651600”, which is a JAK3 inhibitor. This molecule, besides being studied for alopecia areata, is also being evaluated for other autoimmune diseases, such as Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis. In a Phase 2a trial with patients with alopecia areata, there was improvement in hair regrowth. The molecule reached the primary efficacy endpoints, as well as the secondary endpoints. The great results obtained led to the FDA designing the molecule as a breakthrough therapy. Other drugs being studied as well include Ruxolitinib and Baricitinib, all three of them being JAK inhibitors.

It is good to know that there is hope for patients with this autoimmune disease. Even though it affects only a small part of the population, dealing with unexplained hair loss is always difficult and may lead to other conditions affecting self-esteem, such as anxiety and depression. We will keep you posted regarding more rare diseases and new treatments that become researched in clinical trials or made available to the public.