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First ever NHS drug to treat alopecia could be a ‘monumental day’ for severe hair loss sufferers

Ritlecitinib, a medication to treat people with severe hair loss has been recommended for NHS use for the first time

A medicine for severe hair loss, or alopecia, could be offered by the NHS for the first time. Ritlecitinib, a tablet that is taken once a day, has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for NHS use for treating severe alopecia, which according to NICE ‘could help up to 14,000 people in England.’

‘Our committee heard how severe alopecia areata can have a significant impact on people’s health and quality of life. I’m delighted that we are now able to recommend this innovative treatment, the first time a medicine for severe alopecia areata has been recommended by NICE for use in the NHS,’ said Helen Knight, director of the medicines evaluation at NICE.

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Alopecia areata affects roughly 400,000 people across the UK at any point in their life. It is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system mistakes their hair follicles as a foreign body and attacks them.

In severe cases, hair is lost from across the body. Lack of hair on parts of the body other than the scalp, including eyelashes and eyebrows, nasal hair, and hair on the skin leaves people more vulnerable to infections and reduces their ability to regulate their body temperature.

The drug Ritlecitinib, which is licensed to give to people aged 12 and over reduces the enzymes that cause inflammation and hair loss at the follicle, and improves hair growth.

Sue Schilling, the chief executive of Alopecia UK commended this move, saying the availability of a licensed drug for treating alopecia is a ‘monumental day for the alopecia areata community,’ but noted there were still critical issues to be addressed.

‘For far too long, patients with alopecia areata have gone without a licensed treatment option available via NHS pathways. If new treatments are only available privately, it becomes a case of the haves and the have nots. This latest NICE recommendation will go some way to address this,’ said Ms Schilling.

However, she added that the alopecia community still faces ‘substantial barriers including difficulties in getting a dermatology referral from their GP, unacceptable dermatology waiting times, and even some NHS trusts making the decision not to allow dermatology appointments for alopecia patients.’

Ms Schilling said ‘there is no longer the excuse of there being no licensed treatment available,’ and urged key decision-makers within the NHS to keep referral pathways open for patients with alopecia areata.