FDA-approved Eczema Drug Dupixent Causes Hair Regrowth in Alopecia Sufferer

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After 11 months of dupilumab treatment, significant pigmented hair had grown across the patient’s scalp. Courtesy of the JAMA Network

An FDA-approved drug used to treat eczema has led to the regrowth of hair in a teenage alopecia sufferer. The unexpected side effect is thought to be the first of its kind—and researchers are now hoping to investigate the drug’s potential to treat others with the hair-loss condition.

Writing their case report in the journal JAMA Dermatology, the team said they were treating a 13-year-old patient for alopecia totalis. This is the complete loss of hair on the scalp—the patient had not grown hair on their scalp since the age of two.

According to the U.S. government’s rare diseases website, the cause of the disease is unknown. It is often thought to be an autoimmune disorder, where the body’s own immune system attacks the hair follicles by mistake.

The patient was also suffering from eczema—a skin condition she had lived with since the age of seven months. As a result, doctors began treating her with dupilumab, an FDA-approved treatment for moderate to severe eczema normally known by the brand name Dupixent. Shortly after, the patient experienced significant hair regrowth.

After six weeks, she noticed fine light hairs appearing on her head. After seven months, she had a significant amount of regrowth of pigmented hair.

182537 Fine light hairs called vellus hairs appeared on the scalp of a patient with alopecia totalis six weeks after she began dupilumab treatment for eczema. Courtesy of JAMA Network.

Lead author Maryanne Makredes Senna, a dermatologist with the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Dermatology, said they were “quite surprised” at the result. "As far as we know, this is the first report of hair regrowth with dupilumab in a patient with any degree of alopecia areata,” she said in a statement.

When the patient stopped taking dupilumab, she started shedding hair. When she started taking it again, it grew back.

Senna believes dupilumab may target an immune system pathway that is overactive in eczema patients. "Right now, it's hard to know whether dupilumab could induce hair growth in other alopecia patients, but I suspect it may be helpful in patients with extensive active eczema and active alopecia areata," she said. "We've submitted a proposal for a clinical trial using dupilumab in this patient population and hope to be able to investigate it further in the near future."

There are an estimated 6.5 million people in the U.S. living with some form of alopecia. Dupilumab should not be taken without medical approval—side effects include oral herpes, conjunctivitis and upper respiratory tract infection. 

Previously, the arthritis drug tofacitinib citrate was found to successfully treat male alopecia universalis—where hair loss is seen across the whole body. In a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers from Yale said they expected to see the same results on other alopecia patients. Further research is still in the preliminary stages—and, as the Belgravia Center warns, tofacitinib citrate can cause serious side effects, including tuberculosis and cancer.

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