New Drug Relieves Hand Eczema

In Some Patients, Alitretinoin Cleared Severe Hand Eczema After Standard Treatment Failed

From the WebMD Archives

March 8, 2010 (Miami Beach, Fla.) -- A new drug called alitretinoin can help relieve cracked, itchy, irritated hands in people with severe hand eczema, researchers report.

Hands "completely or almost completely" cleared up in nearly half of people with hand eczema that didn't respond to standard treatment, says Charles Lynde, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Toronto.

Up to 10% of people have hand dermatitis, in which the skin becomes inflamed, typically from an allergic reaction to an irritant, Lynde says. The hand becomes dry and chapped and eventually red, scaly, and inflamed.

Of those, about 5% have dermatitis as severe as the people in the new research, he says.

"These were hard-core patients who weren't getting better when treated with ointments containing corticosteroids," the standard drugs used to reduce inflammation in people with severe dermatitis. They had suffered for nine or 10 years, on average, Lynde tells WebMD.

"At present, we don't have very much to offer when corticosteroid [ointments] fail," he says.

Enter alitretinoin, a relative of vitamin A that is approved for severe hand eczema in some European countries and Canada but not the U.S. It's given in capsule form, once a day.

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), Lynde summarized findings from three studies showing that alitretinoin is effective in a substantial proportion of these patients.

"The first and second studies show that itching, redness, fissures, and dryness go away. The third shows it will help if you relapse," he says.

The research was funded by Basilea Pharmaceutica International, which markets alitretinoin under the brand name Toctino in Europe. Lynde has reported being a consultant for Basilea.

Alitretinoin Clears Up Severe Hand Dermatitis

The largest of the studies involved 1,032 people with severe hand dermatitis in Europe and Canada. The patients took a 10-milligram or 30-milligram dose of alitretinoin, or placebo, once a day for 12 or 24 weeks.

Participants were told to avoid irritants such as detergent that could trigger or exacerbate their dermatitis.

The skin condition completely or almost completely resolved in 48% of patients treated with the higher dose of alitretinoin. "That means they were 90%, 95%, 100% improved," Lynde says.