Dr. Brett King, researcher and dermatologist at Yale University, has been on the lips of individuals throughout medical and scientific communities recently as word spreads about his undeniable success helping a patient with alopecia universalis to grow hair on his scalp, face, and body using an already approved rheumatoid arthritis drug called tofacitinib citrate (Pfizer namebrand Xeljanz). The drug, which was approved by the FDA in 2012, is an enzyme inhibitor that functions by impeding certain signals that play roles in the autoimmune disorders that it has been used to treat thus far. It has been used to combat alopecia in mice before, but never in humans.
Kyle Rhodes, Dr. King’s 25-year-old patient, was diagnosed with alopecia areata when he was 2 years old, and the disorder had developed into its rarest form by the time he was 18. His concurrent diagnosis of plaque psoriasis was the main driving factor behind his referral to the Yale dermatologist. Seeking to help his patient to combat both plaque psoriasis and alopecia universalis, Dr. King prescribed 10mg of Xeljanz for two months followed by a slightly increased dosage thereafter. “The best available science suggested this might work, and it has,” he said, crediting Columbia University scientist Angela Christiano’s work for leading him to try the new form of therapy. Though this is the first successful application of the drug for the treatment of alopecia, Dr. King is optimistic about future trials and is pursuing further research via his submission of a proposal for clinical trials of tofacitinib in cream form.
“This is a huge step forward in the treatment of patients with this condition,” Dr. King stated. “While it’s one case, we anticipated the successful treatment of this man based on our current understanding of the disease and the drug. We believe the same results will be duplicated in other patients, and we plan to try.”
Some members of the medical community, such as University of Pennsylvania’s dermatology chairman, Dr. George Cotsarelis, warn against the risk of side effects that, though not present in Kyle’s case, are possible with the drug. Both Dr. Cotsarelis and Dr. King agree that this treatment works because the type of hair loss is autoimmune in nature, and thus, the drug has no application in regards to genetic or male pattern hair loss. With mildly effective psoriasis results, ground-breakingly successful alopecia results, no side effects, and a Pfizer discount card though, Kyle Rhodes is a happy, and now hairy, camper.
Dr. King’s work can be found in the paper “Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Oral Tofacinitib Reverses Alopecia Universalis in a Patient with Plaque Psoriasis” via the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. A brief interview with Kyle from CNN can be viewed by clicking here or on the image below.