Existing drug for blood problems is used to treat vitiligo

The medication was applied either once or twice daily, in the form of a cream

Despite some promising research, there is currently no one reliable cure for vitiligo. There may be new hope, however, as a recent study has shown an existing medication to be quite effective at repigmenting the affected skin.

The cause of vitiligo is presently unknown. When someone has the disease, though, it causes their immune system to attack the skin’s pigment cells. This results in blotches of bleached skin, which in some cases – particularly when they occur on the face, or on dark skin – are quite noticeable.

In a recent US-wide phase II clinical trial, Tufts Medical Center dermatologist Dr. David Rosmarin explored the use of an already-approved medication, ruxolitinib, as a potential treatment. Ordinarily it’s taken orally, as a means of treating blood disorders. In this case, however, it was applied to vitiligo-affected skin as a cream.

The randomized trial was conducted over the course of two years, involving 157 patients at 30 sites across the US. Half of the participants applied the ruxolitinib cream either once or twice daily, while the other half unknowingly applied a placebo.

When the course of treatment was over, approximately half of the patients who had been applying the highest dose of the drug experienced a “statistically significant” improvement of almost 50 percent in their facial vitiligo. By contrast, only three percent of the control group saw a similar improvement.

A Tufts representative tells us that ruxolitinib works on vitiligo by suppressing the overactive TH1 arm of the body’s immune system, which is responsible for the depigmentation. The reported side effects included skin redness, irritation, and acne, although they were all quite mild.

“Topical ruxolitinib has the potential to change the way vitiligo is treated. Not only is it effective at repigmenting the skin, but it has an excellent safety profile,” says Dr. Rosmarin. “We also are optimistic that many vitiligo patients may see an even better response with continuous ruxolitinib usage over an extended period of time, combined with phototherapy and sunlight exposure. Our hope is that this treatment ultimately will be a game-changer for the millions of people worldwide affected by vitiligo.”

Rosmarin recently presented his findings at the World Congress of Dermatology in Milan.