In a quest to expand the usage of Olumiant, Eli Lilly (LLY 1.96%) and Incyte (INCY -0.52%) have shown the drug can help patients with atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, when used in combination with topical corticosteroids. All the patients had already failed treatment with cyclosporine, the first-line generic drug used to treat the disease.

After 16 weeks of treatment, 31.5% of patients taking the highest dose of the drug had at least a 75% or greater change from baseline in their Eczema Area and Severity Index score (EASI75), while only 17.2% of patients taking placebo met the EASI75 goal. The healthcare companies also tested two other doses of the drug, with the middle dose helping 27.6% of patients and the low dose helping 22.6% of patients, but neither dose was statistically better than placebo.

Dermatologist examining a patient's back

Image source: Getty Images.

Olumiant is approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis in more than 60 countries. The drug generated almost $300 million in sales during the first nine months of 2019. Incyte, which licensed the drug to Eli Lilly, received $57 million in royalties from Eli Lilly over that time period.

The drug works by inhibiting a protein called Janus kinase, which is involved in cell signaling in immune cells. By inhibiting JAK, Olumiant dampens the immune response in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and eczema.

Eli Lilly has already applied for expanded approval to treat eczema in the EU and plans to submit applications for the disease in the U.S. and Japan this year.