Tofacitinib, sold under the brand Xeljanz among others, is a medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and ulcerative colitis.[2][3]

Common side effects include diarrhea, headache, and high blood pressure.[2] Serious side effects may include infections, cancer, and pulmonary embolism.[2][4] In 2019, the safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) began a review of tofacitinib and recommended that doctors temporarily not prescribe the 10 mg twice-daily dose to people at high risk for pulmonary embolism.[5] The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released warnings about the risk of blood clots.[6][7][8]

It is in the janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor class, discovered and developed by the National Institutes of Health and Pfizer.


  • 1 Medical uses
    • 1.1 Rheumatoid arthritis
    • 1.2 Ulcerative colitis
  • 2 Adverse effects
  • 3 Mechanism
  • 4 History
  • 5 Research
    • 5.1 Psoriasis
    • 5.2 Alopecia areata
    • 5.3 Vitiligo
    • 5.4 Atopic dermatitis
    • 5.5 Ankylosing spondylitis
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Medical uses[edit]

Rheumatoid arthritis[edit]

In November 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tofacitinib citrate “to treat adults with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis who have had an inadequate response to, or who are intolerant of, methotrexate.”[9] It was later approved in Japan, Switzerland and others (but not the EU). It is marketed as Xeljanz in all regions except for Russia where it will be marketed as Jakvinus or Jaquinus.[10]

Ulcerative colitis[edit]

In May 2018, the U.S. FDA approved tofacitinib citrate “for the treatment of adult patients in the U.S. with moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis.”[3] Tofacitinib citrate is the first oral JAK inhibitor approved for chronic use in ulcerative colitis (tofacitinib is a small molecule, not a biologic).

Adverse effects[edit]

Tofacitinib was initially not approved by European regulatory agencies because of concerns over efficacy and safety,[11] although by 2018 the Euro pean Commission had approved it.[12] Animal studies with tofacitinib conducted prior to human trials showed some carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, and impairment of fertility.[13]

The most commonly reported adverse reactions during the first three months in controlled clinical trials (occurring in greater than or equal to 2% of patients treated with tofacitinib citrate monotherapy or in combination with DMARDs) were upper respiratory tract infections, headache, diarrhea, and nasopharyngitis (the “common cold”).[13]

Tofacitinib is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have a boxed warning on its label about possible injury and death due to problems such as infections, Lymphoma and other malignancies which can arise from use of this drug.[9] Serious infections leading to hospitalization or death, including tuberculosis and bacterial, invasive fungal, viral, and other opportunistic infections, have occurred in patients receiving tofacitinib. Epstein Barr Virus-associated post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder has been observed at an increased rate in renal transplant patients treated with tofacitinib while on immunosuppressive medications. Patients are warned to avoid use of tofacitinib citrate during an “active serious infection, including localized infections.” Doctors are advised to use it with caution in patients that may be at increased risk of gastrointestinal perforations. Laboratory monitoring is recommended due to potential changes in lymphocytes, neutrophils, hemoglobin, liver enzymes and lipids. Tofacitinib claims to have no contraindications, however doctors are advised to reduce the patient’s dosage when combined with “potent inhibitors of Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4),” such as ketoconazole), or one or more combined medications that result in both moderate inhibition of CYP3A4 and potent inhibition of CYP2C19 such as fluconazole. Furthermore, immunizations with live vaccines should be avoided by tofacitinib users.[13]

According to post-marketing research, tofacitinib may also increase the risk for pulmonary embolism. Prescribers should consider risk factors for pulmonary embolism before prescribing this medication. Risk factors include age, obesity, smoking and immobilization. Patients taking this medication, irrespective of indication or risk factors, should be monitored for signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism.[14]


It is an inhibitor of the enzyme janus kinase 1 (JAK1) and janus kinase 3 (JAK 3), which means that it interferes with the JAK-STAT signaling pathway, which transmits extracellular information into the cell nucleus, influencing DNA transcription.[15]

In a mouse model of established arthritis, tofacitinib rapidly improved disease by inhibiting the production of inflammatory mediators and suppressing STAT1-dependent genes in joint tissue. This efficacy in this disease model correlated with the inhibition of both JAK1 and 3 signaling pathways, suggesting that tofacitinib may exert therapeutic benefit via pathways that are not exclusive to inhibition of JAK3.[16]


The potential significance of JAK3 inhibition was first discovered in the laboratory of John O’Shea, an immunologist at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).[17] In 1994, Pfizer was approached by the NIH to form a public-private partnership in order to evaluate and bring to market experimental compounds based on this research.[17] Pfizer initially declined the partnership but agreed in 1996, after the elimination of an NIH policy dictating that the market price of a product resulting from such a partnership would need to be commensurate with the investment of public taxpayer revenue and the “health and safety needs of the public.”[17] Pfizer worked with O’Shea’s laboratory to define the structure and function of JAK3 and its receptors, and then handled the drug discovery, preclinical development, and clinical development of tofacitinib in-house.[18]

The drug was coded as CP-690,550[19] during development. Its original recommended INN (rINN) was tasocitinib,[20] but that was overruled during the INN approval process as being inoptimally differentiable from other existing INNs, so the name tofacitinib was proposed and became the INN.

In November 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tofacitinib for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Two rheumatologists interviewed by the magazine Nature Biotechnology complained that they were “shocked” and “disappointed” at the $2,055 a month wholesale price.[18]

A 2014 study showed that tofacitinib treatment was able to convert white fat tissues into more metabolically active brown fat, suggesting it may have potential applications in the treatment of obesity.[21]

In November 2012, the FDA approved tofacitinib “to treat adults with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis who have had an inadequate response to, or who are intolerant of, methotrexate.[9] The FDA approved only the 5 mg twice-daily dose on the grounds that a higher dose was not considered to have an adequate risk-to-benefit ratio.[22]


It has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of psoriasis in Phase 3 studies. It is being studied for treatment of inflammatory bowel disease,[23][24] and other immunological diseases, as well as for the prevention of organ transplant rejection.[25][26][27][28]


Tofacitinib is a current investigational drug in psoriasis. Tofacitinib has demonstrated its effectiveness for plaque psoriasis in Phase 3 randomized, controlled trials in comparison to placebo and to etanercept.[22][29][30] In particular, a 10 mg twice-daily dose of tofacitinib was shown to be noninferior to etanercept 50 mg subcutaneously twice weekly.[30]
Approval of tofacitinib for the treatment of psoriasis was rejected by the FDA due to safety concerns.[31]

Alopecia areata[edit]

Based on preclinical studies in a mouse model of the disease,[32] tofacitinib has been investigated for the treatment of alopecia areata. Early case reports[33][34] suggested potential efficacy, as did a phase II open-label clinical trial,[35] published in tandem with a phase II clinical trial showing the same for ruxolitinib.[36]


In a June 2015 case report, a 53-year-old woman with vitiligo showed noticeable improvement after taking tofacitinib for five months.[37]

Atopic dermatitis[edit]

The results of using tofacitinib in six patients with recalcitrant atopic dermatitis was published in the September 2015. All saw improvement in their atopic dermatitis without any adverse events.[38]

Ankylosing spondylitis[edit]

As of 2016[update] it is undergoing a phase II trial for ankylosing spondylitis.[39][needs update]


  • ^ a b Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
  • ^ a b c “Tofacitinib Citrate”. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Retrieved 1 June cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-image:url(“//”);background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url(“//”);background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:12px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}
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  • ^ Mackay-Wiggan J, Jabbari A, Nguyen N, Cerise JE, Clark C, Ulerio G, et al. (September 2016). “Oral ruxolitinib induces hair regrowth in patients with moderate-to-severe alopecia areata”. JCI Insight. 1 (15): e89790. doi:10.1172/jci.insight.89790. PMC 5033756. PMID 27699253.
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  • ^ AS: Is Tofacitinib the Next Big Thing? Nov 2016
  • External links[edit]

    • “Tofacitinib”. Drug Information Portal. U.S. National Library of Medicine.


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