Relieving Chronic Itch


LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Chronic itch affects up to 15 percent of the population and for many patients, it can be a life-changing condition because the urge to itch is always there, disrupting everyday activities and making it nearly impossible to sleep well. Now, for the first time, doctors have found a drug that could finally offer relief.

A few years ago, Jerry Kwentus woke up and started down a frustrating path.

“I developed a severe chronic itch over most of my body. Torso, arms, legs, neck and hands,” Kwentus shared.

The itching was relentless. For two and a half years, he tried everything doctors prescribed. Nothing helped.

“Overall, I was miserable. I couldn’t sleep soundly at night and in the daytime, I couldn’t concentrate,” Kwentus told Ivanhoe.

Then he found Brian Kim, MD, a Dermatologist at Washington University in St. Louis at the Center for the Study of Itch.

Dr. Kim elaborated, “In severe forms, it is absolutely debilitating.” (Read Full Interview)

While searching for molecules in nerves that might be responsible for itch, Dr. Kim found one called JAK.

“All itch has to go through your nerves back up to your brain, so we thought it we can block this, maybe we can treat itch,” Dr. Kim explained.

He looked for drugs that block JAK and found tofacitinib, a drug already FDA approved for rheumatoid arthritis.

“Every patient that’s actually taken this medication has improved,” Dr. Kim shared.

Results of Dr. Kim’s study show patients on the drug had a nearly 80 percent improvement in their itch.

“The results have been remarkable. Patients have been able to get their lives back. People are sleeping now that weren’t sleeping,” said Dr. Kim.

The drug changed Kwentus’ life.

“I began to feel better within the first hour after taking the very first pill. For me, it was a miracle drug,” Kwentus said.

This new drug is FDA approved and can be prescribed off-label by physicians, but it’s up to insurance companies whether or not they’ll cover it. If it’s not covered by insurance, the drug costs more than 30,000 dollars a year.

Contributors to this news report include: Stacie Overton Johnson, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:        MB #4420


BACKGROUND: Itchy skin is an uncomfortable, irritating sensation that makes you want to scratch. Also known as pruritus, itchy skin is usually caused by dry skin. It’s common in older adults, as skin tends to become drier with age. About ten percent of the population suffers from a condition like eczema, an itchy red scaly rash. Depending on the cause of your itchy skin, it may appear normal. Repeated scratching can cause raised, thickened areas of skin that may bleed or become infected. Brian Kim, MD, a dermatologist at Washington University in St. Louis said, “There’s lots of ways that you can arrive at having chronic itch. It’s so understudied that a big portion of patients who have chronic itch we don’t even know what they have. We coined the term, we say chronic idiopathic peritis. Some people call it peritis with an unknown origin.”

(Source: & Brian Kim, MD)


TREATMENT: Once a cause is identified, treatments for itchy skin may include corticosteroid creams, calcineurin inhibitors, or antidepressants. If an internal disease is found, whether it’s kidney disease, iron deficiency or a thyroid problem, treating that disease often relieves the itch. Other treatments that doctors use now are essentially medications that have already been developed for other things.  One example is a medication called gabapentin. It’s used for diabetic nerve pain but doctors know that the same nerve fibers that cause pain can also involve itch. Topical steroids that were designed for rashes are also sometimes used.

(Source: & Brian Kim, MD)


NEW RESEARCH: Dr. Kim thought that a molecule called JAK might relieve itch. They used a drug called tofasidren that contained the molecule and was originally used for rheumatoid arthritis, and gave it to some patients who suffered from chronic itch. To their surprise, they started showing signs of improvement. Dr. Kim said, “every patient that’s taken this medication has improved with such remarkable results, everyone with actually pretty significant results.” Dr. Kim is pushing forward with more studies to help get this drug, and any others that might help, approved for chronic itch. Right now, there are no FDA- approved medications to treat the condition.

(Source: Brian Kim, MD)



Nancy Bodet


Diane Duke Williams, PR

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Doctor Q and A

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