The Food and Drug Administration has approved a medication to treat a form of alopecia. A drug called Olumiant, or baricitinib, is a tablet that can restore hair growth for people diagnosed with alopecia areata, the FDA announced.
“Access to safe and effective treatment options is crucial for the significant number of Americans affected by severe alopecia,” Dr. Kendall Marcus, director of the Division of Dermatology and Dentistry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release. “Today’s approval will help fulfill a significant unmet need for patients with severe alopecia areata.”
Alopecia areata happens when the immune system attacks the hair follicles. This causes hair loss in a specific areas and can have varying levels of severity. For some people, this is temporary but for many it is permanent. It’s the second most common form of alopecia and affects 300,000 people a year.
Baricitinib treats alopecia areata by blocking the immune system from attacking the hair follicles. In two clinical trials, participants that took Baricitinib “achieved at least 80% scalp hair coverage at week 36.” Baricitinib has been around for a few years. It was approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis in 2018. It was also approved to treat COVID-19 in certain adult patients.
Unfortunately, there are some side effects. The FDA noted that side effects include acne, urinary tract infections, headaches, fatigue, upper respiratory tract infections and many more.
Alopecia became a hot topic after Chris Rock’s G.I Jane joke about Jada Pinkett Smith led to Will Smith slapping him at the Oscars. Pinkett-Smith has since hosted a Red Table Talk episode about the autoimmune disorder she suffers from.
“147 million people are living with alopecia, including me, and there’s so much shame around having alopecia and when you go bald and you don’t have a choice,” she said. “You know what I mean? I think the part that makes it most difficult for me is that it comes and goes.”