When Arcutis Biotherapeutics set out to build a community around seborrheic dermatitis, or seb derm, the first challenge was getting the members of that community to recognize that there was a disease that united them. 

While the common skin condition affects some 10 million Americans, it takes the average patient just over three-and-a-half years from the onset of symptoms until they visit a physician. 

During that interim period, many patients attempt to treat seb derm on their own with soaps, shampoos, lotions and other over-the-counter remedies. According to Arcutis, patients spend more than 30 minutes a day and use up to six different treatments to control symptoms. 

Dandruff-like flakes and scaly patches are viewed as irritants, but not ones that require medical attention. 

This is despite the fact that almost half of seb derm patients who participated in a Harris survey said that the condition impacted their emotional health and 42% said it impacted their physical health. Yet 63% of respondents thought their symptoms were not severe enough to warrant medical attention. 

Clearing up Seb Derm campaign image
Image used with permission.

Calling patients to action

That’s where the Clearing Up Seb Derm initiative comes in. The Arcutis campaign sets out to help those who have seb derm to better understand their condition, become aware of treatment options and then consult with a physician. 

At the heart of the campaign is a website designed to highlight patient testimonials and communicate the variety of ways in which symptoms may appear, an effort furthered by an abundance of images. Like other dermatological conditions, seb derm can appear different on the skin of different patients. 

When Arcutis Biotherapeutics CEO Frank Watanabe discusses the goals of the Clearing Up Seb Derm campaign, he is reminded of that three-and-a-half-year wait. 

“That’s a long time to struggle with the disease that is visible and changes your life in a fairly profound way,” he says as he describes it as part of what he calls a “don’t know, don’t go, don’t show” phenomenon. 

In short, since patients don’t know that seb derm is a condition that can benefit from medical treatment, they don’t go to their physicians. Even when they do go, they often don’t discuss or show it.

“Because of some of the stigmas, a lot of the patients were embarrassed to discuss their dermatitis with their doctors, and to show them the symptoms they were struggling with. Six in 10 respondents actually expressed embarrassment about discussing their symptoms,” Watanabe adds. 

It is often only thanks to some luck – and observant HCPs – that the disease is diagnosed. 

“We frequently hear from dermatologists that a patient will be in the office for a skin check, a look at their acne or something else, and the doctor will notice the seb derm and say, ‘Hey, you know, have seb derm, right? And we can do something about that,’” he says.

Offering treatment options

In discussing the need for the campaign, Watanabe mentions the lack of available information, a situation that frustrates many people living with seb derm. 

“Because doctors haven’t had good treatment choices, they haven’t necessarily had the strongest motivation to open this conversation up knowing the patient’s going to be frustrated,” he explains. “I had dinner with a dermatologist last year and she said one of the great frustrations of COVID-19 was her seb derm patients coming back after two years and they asked, ‘Hey, doc, do you have anything new for me?’ Her answer was, ‘No, I don’t.’ She felt like a failure for her patients because she didn’t have anything to offer them.”

In addition to informing patients — and physicians — of treatment options, Watanabe sees the abundance of seb derm imagery as a key service being provided by the campaign. 

“One of the things that we realized quickly as we got into the seb derm space is that there aren’t good images because it hasn’t been a real area of focus.”

He explains the campaign strategy when it comes to images of the disease, stressing the importance of showing a variety of representations of different skin colors, different hairstyles, men versus women, facial hair and no facial hair. 

“All of those things are important. We’ve invested a lot of time and money in collecting appropriate images so that everyone can see someone who looks like them and realize, ‘Oh, that’s me. That looks just like me,’” he says. 

For Watanabe that moment of recognition is also important in minimizing an important aspect of seb derm. 

“The psychosocial impact on a patient suffering from a skin disease can often be as great or greater than more serious medical conditions because it’s so visible,” he says. “Creating a community where people can realize that there are other people like me who are struggling this, that we’re going through this together and we can get a dialogue going, will help to empower them to better manage their disease. It can also help them deal with some of these psychosocial impacts that they’re struggling with.”