(WJW) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug this week to treat adult patients with severe alopecia areata.

The disorder affects more than 300,000 people in the U.S. each year. Alopecia was recently talked about in the news after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars for making a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia.

The drug, called Olumiant, is an oral tablet that treats the entire body.  

Alopecia areata, commonly referred to as just alopecia, is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own hair follicles, causing hair to fall out, often in clumps. Olumiant is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor which blocks the activity of one or more of a specific family of enzymes, interfering with the pathway that leads to inflammation.

“Access to safe and effective treatment options is crucial for the significant number of Americans affected by severe alopecia,” said Kendall Marcus, M.D., director of the Division of Dermatology and Dentistry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Today’s approval will help fulfill a significant unmet need for patients with severe alopecia areata.”

Olumiant was originally approved in 2018. It is approved as a treatment for certain adult patients with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis. Olumiant is also approved for the treatment of COVID-19 in certain hospitalized adults.  

The FDA granted the approval of Olumiant to Eli Lilly and Company.