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Pfizer Alopecia Treatment: What Is Ritlecitinib & How Does It Work?
Dr. Michael May (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Michael May (FRCS)
Updated on November 13, 2023

Pfizer is the world’s biggest research-based pharmaceutical company. They’re responsible for some of the most successful medications in circulation, including the first UK-approved Covid-19 vaccine.

Recently, Pfizer filed for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for its alopecia medication, ritlecitinib.

Coincidentally, Pfizer’s alopecia drug also made the headlines in 2022 for an entirely different reason. Pfizer sponsored the 2022 Oscars, leading conspiracy theorists to claim that the now-infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock incident was a staged publicity stunt to promote Pfizer’s alopecia medication. Rock’s joke, after all, made light of Jada Pinkett-Smith’s hair loss condition.

However, this theory isn’t true [1].

Individuals involved in the Oscars slapping incident

So what do we know about ritlecitinib? In this article, you’ll find out:

  • What ritlecitinib is and how it works
  • The effectiveness of ritlecitinib
  • When ritlecitinib will be available.
Table of Contents

What is LITFULO(ritlecitinib), Pfizer’s alopecia drug?

LITFULO (ritlecitinib) is a drug designed to help stimulate hair growth in people who have alopecia areata and other hair loss conditions caused by an autoimmune disease.

Back in 2018, this Pfizer drug designed to treat severe alopecia areata was given Breakthrough Therapy status by the FDA, thanks to its significance as a potential treatment for alopecia.

Ritlecitinib is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that’s taken once a day as an oral tablet. JAK inhibitors block immune response signals, essentially suppressing the immune system to avoid an unnecessary autoimmune response.

An autoimmune response happens when the body overreacts to a trigger, and the immune system attacks its own cells. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition in which white blood cells attack the hair follicles. Alopecia totalis (AT) and alopecia universalis (AU) are related conditions. AT results in near or total scalp hair loss whereas AU results in complete loss of hair on the scalp and the body.

Ritlecitinib blocks signals from molecules and immune cells that are linked with alopecia areata symptoms [2]. It’s a highly selective JAK inhibitor, which means it can target more specific enzymes than other drugs in this category. Researchers suggest this may lead to fewer side effects than other JAK inhibitors, making it a highly anticipated treatment [2].

Pfizer alopecia medication trial results

Recent clinical trials show significant improvements in hair loss for alopecia patients taking ritlecitinib [3]. The latest trial examined results in 719 people who each had at least 50% hair loss as a result of alopecia areata, alopecia totalis, or alopecia universalis.

After 6 months of taking ritlecitinib, a statistically significant proportion of patients experienced hair regrowth to at least 80% scalp hair coverage, compared with just a handful of patients taking the placebo.

Combined with promising results from earlier trials, these positive results mean that Pfizer’s alopecia drug may soon be available as a new treatment for alopecia areata.

Side effects of ritlecitinib

Like all medicines, ritlecitinib has several known side effects. An earlier study found that two-thirds of ritlecitinib trial patients experienced at least one adverse effect, although the majority were mild [4].

Side effects of ritlecitinib include:

  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold (nasopharyngitis)
  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Acne
  • Nausea
  • Shingles
  • Folliculitis (inflamed hair pores)
  • Mouth sores
  • Decreased red blood cell counts

There was also one case of pulmonary embolism, and 2 patients developed breast cancer during the trial, although it’s unclear if this was linked with the alopecia drug.

Other JAK inhibitors are known to be linked with cancer and heart problems. The FDA has previously issued a warning to medication users to highlight these potentially serious side effects [5].

Serious infections

Ritlecitinib can impede the immune system’s ability to fight infection, therefore some people may be more susceptible to developing serious infections. 

Individuals who are sick with an infection are advised to temporarily stop taking ritlecitinib until their infection has cleared.

Who can take ritlecitinib?

Adults and adolescents (individuals aged between 12-17 years old) can take ritlecitinib for treatment of their severe alopecia areata. The approved recommended dosage of ritlecitinib is 50mg which can be taken orally once a day.

What does this mean for alopecia patients?

There are currently very few approved treatments for autoimmune-related hair loss conditions like alopecia areata. Hair transplants for alopecia areata aren’t usually recommended, either. So it’s great news that pharmaceutical companies are actively researching and trialling new treatments for these conditions.

In 2022, the FDA also approved Olumiant, the first systemic treatment for alopecia areata. So this is clearly a priority for pharmaceutical organisations at the moment. New treatments are being discovered, tested, and approved to give alopecia patients more treatment options in the future.

How to tackle alopecia areata

If you’re currently experiencing alopecia areata — or another type of unexplained hair loss — it’s important to seek help from a professional trichologist. They can carry out hair loss blood tests and other hair and scalp examinations to determine the root cause of your condition. They can then find the right treatment for you based on your diagnosis.

Book a consultation at the Wimpole Clinic to help diagnose and address your hair loss today.

Pfizer Alopecia Treatment: What Is Ritlecitinib & How Does It Work?, Wimpole Clinic

Dr. Michael May (FRCS)
Medically reviewed by Dr. Michael May (FRCS)Updated on November 13, 2023
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
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