Exciting New Eczema Treatment Expected This Year
March 17, 2000 (San Francisco) -- A new class of medications to treat eczema
may soon hit the market, according to researchers at a dermatology meeting.
These new treatments are very effective and do not have the long-term side
effects, such as damage to the skin, that are seen with the currently available
steroid creams and ointments.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, afflicts 6% of all Americans -- 15
million adults and children -- with red and inflamed patches of skin that are
uncontrollably itchy. The condition burdens mostly children, and although
nearly half of them outgrow the condition, the rest suffer with it their entire
Although prescription treatments are available, no new topical medications
specifically for eczema have been introduced in more than four decades. Now, a
new type of drugs, called topical immunomodulators (TIMs), is showing
encouraging results in human studies. Like steroids, these new medications calm
down the overactive immune system that is the cause of the skin condition
associated with eczema. However, unlike steroid creams and ointments, they do
not appear to cause the thinning of the skin that makes the skin more
susceptible to sun damage. Dermatologists learned about the new treatment this
week at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)
here in San Francisco.
"Finally, after 40 years, a [new] option that appears [to be] very
safe," dermatologist and researcher Amy Paller, MD, tells WebMD.
"[Development of] this new class of drugs is extremely exciting."
Paller is a pediatric dermatologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in
Two TIMs are in development, tacrolimus and ascomycin, and unlike many
current eczema creams and ointments, they are steroid-free. The new class of
drugs has been tested in 2,000 children and adults, and "it looks very
effective," Paller says. Currently undergoing approval by the FDA,
researchers expect TIMs will be available later this year.
For many, the launch of TIMs can't come soon enough. Since 1970, the
incidence of eczema has nearly tripled. "Physicians, adult patients, and
parents of young children with eczema are always looking for new treatment
options that relieve the discomfort of this condition," Paller says. The
beauty of the new agent, she says, is that, in contrast to topical steroids,
TIMs have shown no evidence of side effects.
"Eczema is a life-altering disease that must be taken seriously,"
says Guy Webster, MD, in a press release issued to WebMD. "While its causes
remain unclear, we now know that patients have defects in one or more of their
genes. Environmental irritants, allergens, and stress provoke skin flares."
Webster is a dermatologist at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
Paller stresses that TIMs represent a suppressive type of therapy, not a
cure. "Eczema is a life-altering disease, not just a rash," she says.
"Kids can't sleep, parents get grumpy; anything we can do to disrupt that
cycle of disruption, we'll try to do."