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Current alopecia areata options include old and new therapies



Effective management of alopecia areata starts with confirmation of the correct diagnosis and assessment of disease severity, Brett King, MD, said in a presentation at MedscapeLive’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

“Some patients don’t have alopecia, but they have been managed for it,” he said. “Whenever there is an ounce of doubt, take a biopsy,” he advised.

Alopecia Syldavia/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Assessing disease severity in patients with alopecia areata (AA) is especially important as new therapies become available, said Dr. King, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University, New Haven, Conn. The Severity of Alopecia Tool (SALT) Score has been available since 2004, and remains a useful tool to estimate percent hair loss. The SALT Score divides the scalp into four sections: 18% each for the right and left sides, 40% for the top of the head, and 24% for the back of the head, said Dr. King. However, the SALT Score can be enhanced or modified based on a holistic approach to disease severity that categorizes alopecia as mild (scalp hair loss of 20% or less), moderate (scalp hair loss of 21 to 49%), or severe (scalp hair loss of 50% or more).

For example, if a patient’s hair loss based on SALT Score is mild or moderate, increase the severity by 1 level (from mild to moderate, or moderate to severe) if any of the following conditions apply: Noticeable eyebrow or eyelash involvement, inadequate treatment response after 6 months, diffuse positive hair pull test consistent with rapid progression of AA, or a negative impact on psychosocial functioning because of AA, he said.

Treatment advances

Understanding of the pathogenesis of AA has been slow to evolve, Dr. King noted. “We haven’t been able to shake this concept that people are causing the disease by being depressed,” as noted in the literature from the 1950s.

In 2014, breakthrough research changed the game by identifying the roles of interferon gamma and interleukin 15, Dr. King said. Since then, more research has been conducted on Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors for AA. Dr. King was a coinvestigator on a 2014 case report in which a patient with psoriasis and alopecia universalis experienced regrowth of most of his body hair after 8 months of daily oral tofacitinib, a JAK inhibitor.

However, despite the dramatic results in some patients, “tofacitinib doesn’t always work,” said Dr. King. In his experience, patients for whom tofacitinib didn’t work were those with complete or nearly complete scalp hair loss for more than 10 years.

Approval of baricitinib

Dr. King’s recent work supported the approval in June 2022 of oral baricitinib, a JAK inhibitor, for AA. He reviewed data from his late-breaker abstract presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in March 2022, where he reported that almost 40% of adults with AA treated with 4 mg of baricitinib daily had significant hair regrowth over 52 weeks.

Two other oral JAK inhibitors in the pipeline for AA are deuruxolitinib and ritlecitinib, which significantly increased the proportion of patients achieving SALT scores of 20 or less, compared with patients on placebo in early clinical trials. Data on both were presented at the annual meeting of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

So far, topical JAK inhibitors have not shown success in hair regrowth for AA patients, said Dr. King. Phase 2 studies of both ruxolitinib 1.5% cream and delgocitinib ointment were ineffective for AA.


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