Topical Ruxolitinib Quickly Relieves AD Itch in Black Patients

Topical ruxolitinib appears to quickly relieve itch in Black patients with atopic dermatitis (AD), an industry-sponsored analysis of pooled data from two studies suggests.

“Ruxolitinib cream monotherapy over 8 weeks was associated with rapid and considerable itch relief in Black or African American patients with AD and was well tolerated,” the study authors wrote in a poster presented at the Society for Investigative Dermatology (SID) 2022 Annual Meeting.

AD can behave differently in different racial groups and can be especially bothersome in Black patients. AD has a prevalence of about 20% in Black children and 5%-10% in Black adults. Black children are roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with AD, and to have severe AD, than White children, according to the authors.

Dr Lawrence Eichenfield

Lead author Lawrence F. Eichenfield, MD, professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues used pooled data from two identically designed phase 3 studies to describe the effects of the cream formulation of the Janus kinase (JAK) 1 and JAK 2 inhibitor ruxolitinib on itch in Black patients.

Topical ruxolitinib (Opzelura), 1.5%, was approved last September for treating AD in non-immunocompromised patients with mild to moderate AD, ages 12 years and older. Last month, it was approved for the treatment of nonsegmental vitiligo in the same age group.  

FDA approval for AD was based on the results of the TRuE-AD1 and TRuE-AD2 double-blind randomized trials, which enrolled about 1200 patients over aged 12 with AD. These patients included 292 Black teenagers and adults between aged 12-71 years who had AD for 2 years or longer, with an Investigator’s Global Assessment (IGA) score of 2 or 3, with 3%-20% affected body surface area, excluding the scalp.

Of the 292 patients, those in the two treatment groups (n = 231) applied ruxolitinib cream twice a day for 8 weeks (0.75% in 118 patients and 1.5% in 113 patients) and 61 applied the vehicle. They used electronic diaries to record the worst level of itch they had experienced each day, from 0 (no itch) to 10 (worst imaginable itch). The main results were as follows: 

  • Mean itch numerical rating scale (NRS) scores at baseline were 5.3 and 5.4 for ruxolitinib cream 0.75% and 1.5%, respectively, and 5.7 for vehicle. Within about 12 hours of first application, mean itch NRS scores dropped -0.6 and -0.7 from baseline among those treated with ruxolitinib cream 0.75% and 1.5%, respectively, compared with -0.2 for those on the vehicle. At day 4, the decreases were -1.4 and -1.6 for ruxolitinib cream 0.75% and 1.5%, respectively, vs. -0.6 for the vehicle (P = .026 and P = .005, respectively, vs vehicle).

  • At day 2, among the 187 patients with a baseline itch NRS score 4 or higher, more patients achieved 4-point or greater itch NRS improvement: 6.1% and 16.4% for ruxolitinib cream 0.75% and 1.5%, respectively vs. 0% for vehicle. At day 7, the differences were 15.9% and 26.6% vs. 3%, respectively. And by week 8, they increased to 30.1% and 43.2% vs. 17.5% (P = .212 and P = .009), respectively.

  • At week 2, 19% of patients in the 0.75% formulation group and 19.4% of patients in the 1.5% formulation group, compared with 5.3% in the vehicle group, reported no days of itch on question 1 of the Patient-Oriented Eczema Measure (POEM) questionnaire that evaluated various aspects of the disease over the previous week. By week 8, the differences grew to 34% and 30.8% vs. 12.2%, respectively.

  • Adverse events, reported by 14.4% and 22.1% of patients on 0.75% and 1.5% ruxolitinib, respectively, and by 32.8% of patients who received the vehicle, were headaches, upper respiratory tract infection, and application site pain.

Ruxolitinib May Be an Alternative to Systemic Immunosuppressives

Asked to comment on the results, Amy J. McMichael, MD, professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, called itch “one of the major life disruptors in atopic dermatitis.”

Providers often assume that patients of different races respond similarly to treatment, but that is not always true, she told Medscape Medical News in an email.

Dr Amy McMichael

“This study proves ruxolitinib’s effectiveness in Black patients, who often have more severe atopic dermatitis signs and symptoms,” said McMichael, who was not involved in the study. “The fact that atopic dermatitis in patients of color has been singled out to examine efficacy is a great way to show that the findings are not just in those who have thinner plaques and potentially less longstanding thickening of the skin from scratching (lichenification),” she added.

McMichael welcomed the lack of systemic side effects and quick relief of itch with this treatment, noting that the effect on itch “is rare with other treatments and extremely rare with other topical medications.”

The effect of topical ruxolitinib on pruritus “was interesting and surprising because very few available topical medications can control itch,” she explained. “The strongest topical steroids can help with pruritus, but they have the risk for skin thinning (atrophy),” while topical ruxolitinib is not associated with skin atrophy.

“After topical steroids fail as first-line treatment, it is likely that more patients will be given this topical medication rather than be moved to immunosuppressive systemic medications,” she noted.

All study authors report relevant relationships with Incyte Corporation, which manufactures ruxolitinib and funded the study, and several authors report employment and shareholding interests in the company. McMichael reports no relevant relationship with the study.

Society for Investigative Dermatology (SID) 2022 Annual Meeting: Abstract 287. Virtual presentations May 19, and June 13 through August 14, online.

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