New Vitiligo treatment approved by FDA, hopes to offer relief

For Alicia Roufs, growing up with Vitiligo meant being bullied and called names on a regular basis. But now there is a way to bring back some color to the white patches that cover her body.

"As someone who had it as a child, to be on the ground floor of a new FDA approved drug is a dream come true," said Roufs, founder of the vitiligo support group Minnesota VITFriends. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that causes the skin to lose pigment.

On Monday, the FDA approved the first-ever drug to reverse vitiligo, called Opzelura, which is already on the market to treat eczema.

"Vitiligo has been an orphan disease. There have been few treatments that have been effective and patients are often told there is nothing to do or that its just cosmetic. We know that it really affects patients' self-esteem, it can increase cancers and rashes in the area because there are no pigments to protect people," said dermatologist Dr. Mohiba Tareen, of Tareen Dermatology.

The cream, which requires a prescription and has to be applied twice a day, stops a protein that destroys the cells that make pigment.

Until now, the only other treatment for Vitiligo approved by the FDA is skin bleaching, like Michael Jackson did to make the rest of the body match the white spots, rather than re-pigmenting the skin like Opzelura does.

"We see faster re-pigmentation on the face and areas with more hair follicles because the hair follicles are the reserve of the stem cells. So it might be a little faster on your face, a little slower on your hand where there are less hair follicles," said Dr. Tareen.

Roufs was part of a patient advisory panel that helped the company that makes Opzelura present it to the Vitiligo community. But she believes it is a medical breakthrough that could restore more than just color to the lives of people who have the chronic skin disorder.

"This is groundbreaking. This is history and I'm so happy to be a part of it," said Roufs.