ST. LOUIS (KFSN) -- Chronic itch affects up to 15% 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 said.
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."
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 medicine 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 a year.
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