Millions of eczema patients may benefit from a new injection after scientists found a jab may treat the common condition.
Oxford University scientists found the pioneering therapy improved the skin of 12 patients – and the results lasted for a month.
Charities today said the results were ‘hugely exciting’ and claimed the medication, called etokimab, is part of the ‘future of treatment’.
Researchers are now planning to trial the antibody treatment – which patients get intravenously – on 300 eczema sufferers.
Oxford University scientists found the pioneering therapy improved the skin of 12 patients – and the results lasted for a month
Around six million people suffer from eczema in Britain, while the figure is in excess of 35 million in the US, figures suggest.
The root cause of the condition, which can cause patients to itch their skin until it is red raw, has mystified dermatologists for decades.
Scientific advances in recent years have led to scientists floating the ideas of an eventual cure – but it remains incurable for now.
Anti-inflammatory steroid creams are the most common treatment. However, they are potent and can cause side effects such as nausea.
Other injections already exist, including dupilumab, which is approved for use on the NHS in England and Wales and by the FDA in the US.
The new study, published in Science Translational Medicine, could offer patients another jab as results showed etokimab was ‘generally well tolerated’.
It targets a chemical in the immune system called IL-33 that fuels inflammation by recruiting immune cells to the site of damaged skin.
Study author Professor Graham Ogg said: ‘We have found they (the patients) experienced significant improvement in their symptoms after a single dose.’
However, he cautioned that the results are ‘very preliminary’ and that his team ‘look forward’ to discovering whether it works for a larger group of patients.
All dozen volunteers showed a reduction in their symptoms of eczema after getting etokimab, which halved their scores on a scale of severity.
And the improvements still persisted after 29 days for 10 of the subjects, according to the results of the study.
There was also a 40 per cent reduction in eosinophils in the blood – a type of immune cell involved in allergic sensitivity – at the end of the month.
Etokimab combats ‘atopic dermatitis’ – the most common form of eczema, in which the skin is attacked from within the body rather than by an outside irritant.
The participants received a placebo injection and then a week later the jab of etokimab.
Four days after each they were given small injections in the skin to challenge the immune system – a placebo in the left arm and a house dust mite to which they were allergic in the right.
Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, welcomed the results.
She said: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that targeted therapies like this are the future of treatment for severe eczema.
‘Eczema therapies have really lagged behind psoriasis treatments and for so long, we have relied on strong general immunosuppressants’.
Dr Wedgeworth added that clinics already use similar treatments – but ‘the emergence of newer therapies is hugely exciting’.
Professor Patrick Chinnery, clinical director at the Medical Research Council that part funded the study, also said the trial was ‘exciting’.
Future research could investigate if treatments targeting IL-33 might also be beneficial for other immune diseases that can be associated with neutrophils.