A new study from an international team of researchers, including UNSW's Professor Dedee Murrell, has given hope to sufferers of atopic eczema, in particular those intolerant to steroids or suffering from skin thinning.
A clinical trial of the topical cream, Elidel (pimecrolimus 1%), has shown the medicine not only is effective against atopic eczema on the face and neck, but has the potential to reverse the unwanted side-effect of skin atrophy (thinning), which is often associated with corticosteroid use.
Atopic eczema is a common problem, affecting 15 percent of Australians, and is particularly prevalent in children with some going on to develop steroid intolerance and skin atrophy.
Findings from the study are published this week in the prestigious British Journal of Dermatology.
Professor Murrell, a UNSW Conjoint Associate Professor and Head of Dermatology at Sydney's St George Hospital, says the cream is in the first new category of topical drugs for eczema in 50 years.
"It works through a more specific mechanism than corticosteroids. While both work to suppress the immune system, this category of medicine does not suppress collagen production in the skin, like steroids do."
But, says Professor Murrell, the most exciting finding was the cream's ability to improve the effects of skin atrophy in half the patients with the pre-existing condition, compared with the dummy cream.
"This was the first study to show that this particular cream, pimecrolimus, could actually reverse some of the skin thinning already caused by steroids," she says.
The 12-week study comprised a six-week randomised controlled trial following 200 patients with atopic eczema on their face or neck, half of whom were given pimecrolimus cream and half a vehicle (placebo) alternative.
"The Elidel cream made a significant improvement in the eczema over the vehicle cream at every time point over the six weeks of the controlled study and also in the six-week period in which all the patients received the active drug."
"But the surprising thing was that a significant proportion of people (almost 50 percent) with pre-existing atrophy also improved, as compared with 17 percent of those on the vehicle cream."
While it is not fully known why Elidel works in this way, Professor Murrell says it gives hope to people who have tried everything else to reverse skin thinning.
Professor Murrell says the findings offer opportunities for further study of possible additional uses for the cream for other thinning skin conditions.
Media Contacts: Professor Dedee Murrell 9113 2543, Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office, 9385 1583 or 0424 580 208