Finding a more effective way to treat infantile hemangioma

Dr. Beth Drolet, chair of Dermatology at UW Health, believes her approach to treating these birthmarks may be safer and more effective for babies. A new business, Arkayli, hopes to bring this novel approach to market.

Unlike conventional birthmarks, infantile hemangiomas typically change in appearance, first by getting bigger and then gradually resolving over several years. Infantile hemangiomas are the most common benign tumor found during the first year of life.

About half the babies diagnosed with IH develop complications, but it’s not always easy to distinguish the infants who need treatment from those who don’t. Because most serious hemangiomas grow quickly, babies can develop scars even if the visible mark disappears. In other cases, breathing or vision may be impaired if a protruding mark appears on the nose or near the eye.

“We’ve been using two different beta blockers, propranolol and timolol, for about the past 15 years,” says Dr. Beth Drolet, a UW Health pediatric dermatologist whose clinical practice and research has focused on IH for three decades. “These drugs are usually effective, but they’re not ideal,” she adds, “More commonly prescribed for adults with heart conditions or high blood pressure, beta blockers can present several unwanted side effects.”

The optimal solution, Drolet says, would be to safely deliver the beta blocker directly to the skin without it getting into the bloodstream.

Working with a Madison-based biopharma company called Arkayli, co-founded by Drolet, she and her Arkayli colleagues see great promise for a new treatment, known as ARK001.

“The idea is fairly simple,” Drolet says. “Instead of giving the baby a liquid by mouth, parents can apply the formulation directly on the surface of the skin. The goal is to provide targeted treatment quickly and safely, before the hemangioma has a chance to cause bigger health or cosmetic problems.”

Fueled in part by a generous investment from UW Health Isthmus Project, ARK001 is still in early-stage development, although momentum for a safer alternative to existing treatments is clearly building.

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Note: Arkayli has also been funded by a SEED grant, administered by Discovery to Product (D2P):