FDA approves topical cream treatment for vitiligo

It is estimated that more than one million Americans suffer from vitiligo. The autoimmune disease targets and destroys pigment cells in the body, causing white spots. The FDA recently approved the first drug treatment to restore pigment in the skin of vitiligo patients.

Opzelura is a topical cream that belongs to a class of drugs called JAK inhibitors. “The drug helps prevent the immune system from being overactive and destroying pigment cells in the body,” says Dr. David Rosmarin of Tufts Medical Center. He led the clinical trials. “One year of using the cream, about half of the patients using it recover 75% or more of their pigment on the face, and about half of the patients recover 50% or more of the pigment all over the body,” he says.

Berardo Rivas participated in the study. He saw results in three months and now has 95% pigmentation on his face. “I don’t think there are any other words to describe it other than happiness and joy that the treatment is actually working for me,” he said.

Rivas has lived with vitiligo for over 30 years. “I started seeing it right on my eyes, my hands, and I think it was here on the collarbone,” Rivas said. In adulthood, the condition worsened. He tried several therapies ranging from creams to UV light treatment and avoided the sun, but he says nothing really helped. “I was avoiding people, I was avoiding gatherings, I was avoiding going to the beach,” he said. Rivas hopes the cream will more than restore pigment for other patients like it did for him.

The treatment is approved for adults and children 12 years or older and requires a prescription. The researchers say that as a topical medication, it was well tolerated by patients and has a good safety profile.

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