Arthritis Drugs for the Treatment of Vitiligo


Arthritis drugs, such as tofactitinib and other Janus kinase inhibitors, may be effective treatments for vitiligo.

Arthritis drugs, such as tofactitinib and other Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, may be effective treatments for vitiligo, according to findings published in JAMA Dermatology.

Researchers from Yale School of Medicine treated one female vitiligo patient for two months in order to determine if the effects of skin discoloration could be stopped. The researchers noted that while vitiligo is a common condition, it is sometimes devastating for patients on an emotional level — especially because no reliable or effective treatments exist. The current treatments like steroid creams or light therapy cannot effectively reverse the disease.

These findings built upon the prior research of principal investigator Brett King, MD, who determined that JAK inhibitors can treat hair loss caused by alopecia areata. A 25-year-old male patient without any hair on his body grew a head full of hair after treatment of 10 mg daily tofacitinib. He grew hair on his scalp after two months, and after three additional months of 10 mg daily dose, he grew eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, and armpit and other hair with no reported side effects. The research team believed that the effects of vitiligo could be reversed using JAK inhibitors through the same mechanisms.

The 53-year-old female vitiligo patient had spots covering her face, hands, and body which had increased in number for the 12 months prior to undergoing the tofacitinib treatment. The areas which most concerned the patient — her hands, arms, and face – saw returned pigmentation after two months of treatment. After give months, the white spots on her face were nearly gone and spots only remained on other parts of her body. Again, no side effects were reported.

“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,” study co-author Brittany Craiglow, MD, explained in a press release, adding that this could be a breakthrough in treatment for vitiligo. “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.”

The researchers want to confirm the safety and efficacy of the drug in the future, and mentioned that the investigation was inspired by another dermatologist in Massachusetts. The team believes tofacitinib or ruxolitinib would be suitable for clinical trial.

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Jonathan Silverberg, MD, PhD, MPH | Credit: George Washington University
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