Eczema sufferers could soon find relief from a monthly jab that banishes the uncomfortable symptoms.
Studies show four out of five people with the skin condition who take lebrikizumab will see their painful and itchy red rashes all-but disappear.
Lebrikizumab was approved by EU health regulators last month and experts say the drug will soon get the green light from the NHS.
Professor Anthony Bewley, consultant dermatologist at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, said: ‘The trial results have been very impressive and doctors are excited to use it. Eczema is a horrible condition which we need more treatments to combat. This will hopefully become one of them.’
Eczema is a group of inflammatory skin conditions that cause itchiness, dry skin, rashes, scaly patches and infections that affect up to 25 per cent of the population.
Lebrikizumab could be a powerful drug in the fight against eczema – a group of inflammatory skin conditions that cause itchiness, dry skin, rashes, scaly patches and infections affecting up to 25 per cent of the population
Professor Anthony Bewley, consultant dermatologist at Barts Health NHS Trust in London , said: ‘The trial results have been very impressive and doctors are excited to use it. Eczema is a horrible condition which we need more treatments to combat. This will hopefully become one of them’
The condition can intensify to such an extent it becomes debilitating, with inflamed skin all over the body. Sufferers may have to endure sensations of burning or have to wrap affected areas in bandages. It can also lead to stress and depression.
At least one in ten children will have eczema at some point but they will typically grow out of it as their immune system develops.
It is believed to occur in people with a common genetic mutation that leads to very dry skin. Flare-ups of symptoms can also be linked to allergies or triggered by certain soaps or foods.
Dermatologists will usually first prescribe creams and washes to deal with the dry skin, and steroid creams to reduce swelling and redness.
If these are ineffective then immunosuppressant drugs, such as ciclosporin or methotrexate, are given. These work by inhibiting certain parts of the immune system that drive inflammation, but can negatively affect immunity and the liver.
In 2021 a revolutionary eczema drug, dupilumab, received NHS approval for patients who had not responded to other treatments.
It targets two proteins – interleukin-4 and interleukin-13 – which cause inflammation. However, while dupilumab is effective at reducing the symptoms of eczema, the twice-a-month jab often leads to side effects including conjunctivitis – where the eyes become red and sore. Some research suggests that patients who take dupilumab are also more likely to get arthritis or joint pain.
But trials of lebrikizumab show that the new treatment – given just once a month – triggers fewer side effects, including conjunctivitis. Experts believe this is because the jab targets only interleukin-13, affecting fewer areas of the body.
The latest study of the drug, published by US pharmaceutical firm Lilly, shows that 80 per cent of participants with moderate to severe eczema who took lebrikizumab for two years maintained clear or almost clear skin. Significantly, experts say that the data suggests that many patients who come off the drug continue to live eczema free.
‘The fact that lebrikizumab leads to fewer side effects and can be taken less often than dupilumab is great news for patients,’ says Prof Bewley. ‘But the biggest news is the signs that patients can be clear of eczema, stop taking the drug and it doesn’t immediately come back.
‘Patients will not be cured, but if we had a treatment which allowed patients to go months or even years without a recurrence that would be very significant.’
One patient hoping to benefit from lebrikizumab is Ellen Vincent, 44, from Cheltenham. She has lived with severe eczema her whole life.
‘I spent my childhood smothered in creams,’ she says. ‘People don’t realise how severe eczema can be. I was in pain all the time and bandaged up like a mummy.’
The mother-of-two says her eczema subsided during her teenage years but returned again in her early 20s. ‘It started coming back all over my body including my face,’ she says. ‘I’ve had periods where I’ve been completely bed bound.’
Ellen has tried steroid creams, which had little effect, and dupilumab, which triggered side effects.
She says: ‘My eyes were sore and I was weeping all the time.’
Ellen says that she is excited to hear about lebrikizumab, adding: ‘I hope when it gets approved I can try it. It gives you hope for the future to know there are new drugs on the way.’