And not just Alopecia Areata. Potentially also a treatment for Androgenetic Alopecia (hormone-related thinning hair seen in both men and women). Aclaris Therapeutics has acquired the rights to a potential treatment for Alopecia Areata (AA) – and like the other treatments they’ve been working on, this one will be based on Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors.
The name of the newly acquired company might sound familiar. It’s Vixen Pharmaceuticals, the startup founded by Dr. Angela Christiano of Columbia University to develop her own JAK inhibitor treatment. This means Aclaris now has the intellectual property rights for a total of three potential JAK3 inhibitor treatments, potentially for both Alopecia Areata and Androgenic Alopecia (male and female pattern baldness).
As you might remember, back in November 2015, Aclaris acquired the rights to two other potential AA treatments based on JAK3 inhibitors – one that was being developed by JAKPharm LLC, and another under development at Key Organics. According to our Hair Loss Treatments Pipeline page, those two potential treatments – known as ATI-50001 and ATI-50002 – are still in the pre-clinical trial stage; one as an oral treatment and one as topical. That was the last we’d heard about either of these treatments.
Aclaris hasn’t added the Vixen JAK3 inhibitor treatment to its pipeline page yet, but it’s likely they will soon. Dr. Christiano’s treatment is reportedly in the very early stages of pre-clinical trials, and no one’s spoken much about it, so we don’t know exactly what it involves.
There’s been some speculation, though. Dr. Christiano has spoken in the past about the potential use of a highly concentrated dose of JAK inhibitors, sent deep into the hair follicle, to trigger the process of hair growth cycling. This may mean that the Vixen treatment now being developed at Aclaris will involve a super-concentrated dose of JAK3 inhibitors, and/or perhaps an application technique that gets them deeper into the follicle than before.
JAK inhibitors interfere with the activity of one or more of the Janus kinase family of enzymes (JAK1, JAK2, JAK3 or TYK2), which are involved in a chemical signaling pathway known as the the JAK-STAT pathway. One of the effects of the JAK-STAT pathway is to pull “Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription” (STAT) proteins into hair follicles.
Under healthy conditions, STAT proteins would help protect hair follicles. But in people with Androgenic Alopecia, Alopecia Areata and related conditions, these proteins seem to trigger the immune system’s cytotoxic C lymphocyte cells to attack hair follicles themselves.
The idea of inhibiting the JAK-STAT signaling pathway to treat hair loss isn’t new. For years, researchers like Dr. Brett King have expressed optimism about the potential of JAK inhibitors to treat Alopecia Areata, as well as other disorders like Male Pattern Baldness (MPB).
But it was a team of researchers led by Dr. Angela M. Christiano at Columbia University who first demonstrated a conclusive link between the JAK-STAT pathway and Alopecia Areata. These researchers described the potential clinical efficacy of JAK inhibitors for Alopecia Areata patients in a 2014 Nature Medicine paper, followed by another paper on the specific mechanism by which JAK inhibition prevents cytotoxic T lymphocytes from attacking hair follicles.
In short, JAK3 inhibitors are well-researched, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they may be able to prevent the body from attacking its own hair follicles. Look forward to some more definite results in the clinical trials that are sure to come soon.
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Kevin Rands is the Founder of HairLossTalk.com and President of Online Health Networks, Inc. a Miami based corporation providing consumer health education on the web. He is also the Founder and Principal Writer for DisrupterDaily.com, an online publication on disruption of health and tech sectors.