FDA Approves Topical Ruxolitinib (Opzelura) for Nonsegmental Vitiligo

Maiya Focht

July 19, 2022

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved topical ruxolitinib (Opzelura) for the treatment of nonsegmental vitiligo in patients aged 12 years or older, the manufacturer, Incyte, announced on July 18. The treatment, which was approved for treating mild to moderate atopic dermatitis in September 2021, is a cream formulation of ruxolitinib, a Janus kinase (JAK) 1/JAK2 inhibitor.

David Rosmarin, MD

Previously, no treatment was approved to repigment patients with vitiligo, says David Rosmarin, MD, vice chair for research and education in the department of dermatology at Tufts Medical Center, Boston. "It's important to have options that we can give to patients that are both safe and effective to get them the desired results," Rosmarin, the lead investigator of the phase 3 clinical trials of topical ruxolitinib, told Medscape. Vitiligo is "a disease that can really affect quality of life. Some people [with vitiligo] feel as if they're being stared at or they're being bullied; they don't feel confident. It can affect relationships and intimacy."

Approval was based on the results of two phase 3 trials (TruE-V1 and TruE-V2) in 674 patients with nonsegmental vitiligo aged 12 years or older. At 24 weeks, about 30% of the patients on treatment, applied twice a day, achieved at least a 75% improvement in the facial Vitiligo Area Scoring Index (F-VASI75), compared with about 8% and 13% among those in the vehicle groups in the two trials.

At 52 weeks, about 50% of the patients treated with topical ruxolitinib achieved F-VASI75.

Also, using self-reporting as measured by the Vitiligo Noticeability Scale, about 30%-40% of patients described their vitiligo as being "a lot less noticeable" or "no longer noticeable" at week 52. Rosmarin reported the 52-week results at the 2022 annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting.

The trial group used 1.5% ruxolitinib cream twice daily for the full year. The vehicle group began using ruxolitinib halfway through the trial. In this group, 26.8% and 29.6% achieved F-VASI 75 at 52 weeks in the two trials.

For treating vitiligo, patients are advised to apply a thin layer of topical ruxolitinib to affected areas twice a day, "up to 10% body surface area," according to the prescribing information, which adds: "Satisfactory patient response may require treatment…for more than 24 weeks. If the patient does not find the repigmentation meaningful by 24 weeks, the patient should be re-evaluated by the healthcare provider."

The most common side effects during the vehicle-controlled part of the trials were development of acne and pruritus at the application site, headache, urinary tract infections, erythema at the application site, and pyrexia, according to the company.

The approved label for topical ruxolitinib includes a boxed warning about serious infections, mortality, cancer, major adverse cardiovascular events, and thrombosis — which, the warning notes, is based on reports in patients treated with oral JAK inhibitors for inflammatory conditions.

Looking forward, Rosmarin believes that using this drug with other therapies, like light treatment, might yield even better responses. The available data are in patients treated with ruxolitinib as monotherapy, without complementary therapies.

William Damsky, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology and dermatopathology at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, who was not involved in the trials, said what is most exciting about this drug is its novelty. Although some topical steroids are used off-label to treat vitiligo, their efficacy is far from what's been observed in these trials of topical ruxolitinib, he told Medscape. "It's huge for a number of reasons. …[O]ne very big reason is it just provides some hope" for the many patients with vitiligo who, over the years, have been told "that there's nothing that could be done for their disease, and this really changes that."

Rosmarin reports financial relationships with over 20 pharmaceutical companies. Damsky disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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