Drug to treat alopecia recommended for NHS use for first time

<span>Alopecia is thought to affect roughly 400,000 people across the UK.</span><span>Photograph: FatCamera/Getty Images</span>
Alopecia is thought to affect roughly 400,000 people across the UK.Photograph: FatCamera/Getty Images

A medication to treat people with severe hair loss has been recommended for NHS use by a health watchdog for the first time.

Ritlecitinib, a tablet manufactured by Pfizer that is taken once a day, has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) for NHS use when treating people with severe alopecia.

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. The treatment works by reducing the enzymes that cause inflammation and hair loss at the follicle.

The recommendation comes after Nice rejected the drug in September 2023. It has been recommended following the manufacturer providing the watchdog with additional information and a greater price discount.

Helen Knight, the director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said: “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.

“It is especially pleasing that we have been able to recommend ritlecitinib just 16 weeks after it was granted a licence by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), demonstrating Nice’s commitment to getting the best care to patients fast.”

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Sue Schilling, the chief executive of Alopecia UK, said: “I thank our volunteers who took part in this process and thank the committee for their work on reaching this decision. This is a monumental day for the alopecia areata community.”

“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.”

She added: “Our 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. There is no longer the excuse of there being no licensed treatment available. I urge key decision-makers within the NHS to keep referral pathways open for patients with alopecia areata.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “People suffering with severe alopecia areata can experience hair loss that affects their health and quality of life, and this latest innovative treatment for patients – the first NHS treatment for the condition – could greatly benefit thousands of people.”