Some pediatricians believe that molluscum contagiosum (MC) should not be treated because they usually self-resolve in 6-18 months, but Rebecca Smith, MD, sees things differently.

“If you don’t treat them, they’re going to spread,” Dr. Smith, who practices dermatology in Fort Mill, S.C., said at Medscape Live’s annual Coastal Dermatology Symposium. “They’re going to be itchy, they can spread on the patient themselves and then to others, and they can cause scarring. The prevalence is anywhere from 5% to 11%. That means there are 6 million patients out there, just waiting to come into your clinics.”

Dr. Rebecca Smith, dermatologist, Fort Mill, S.C.

Dr. Rebecca Smith

To date, no treatment has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for MC, although a laundry list of agents have been tried, including cantharidin; cryotherapy; curettage with and without imiquimod; sinecatechins ointment, 15%; imiquimod; and retinoids. And there are several treatments that are being investigated.

A 2017 Cochrane review of 22 studies involving 1,650 patients demonstrated that no single intervention has been consistently effective in treating MC. “Most of the studies were actually very low quality,” said Dr. Smith, who was not involved with the analysis. “The one high quality study showed that imiquimod did not work any better than its vehicle.”

Investigational treatments

One of the products in the pipeline is VP-102, a proprietary drug-device combination of cantharidin 0.7% administered through a single-use precision applicator, which has been evaluated in phase 3 studies of patients with molluscum aged 2 years and older. It features a visualization agent so that the person applying the drug can see which lesions have been treated. It also contains a bittering agent to mitigate oral ingestion by children.

Pediatric molluscum contagiosum Courtesy Dr. Sarah Cipriano

Pediatric molluscum contagiosum

VP-102, which is being developed by Verrica Pharmaceuticals, is applied once every 21 days in up to 4 applications, and multiple lesions can be treated with one applicator. “It’s a stable concentration with a good shelf life, and two phase 3 randomized studies have shown about a 50% complete clearance of new and existing lesions at day 84,” Dr. Smith said. Those studies enrolled children and adults.

A separate analysis of the same data presented at a meeting in 2019 showed that 77% of patients treated with VP-102 achieved greater than 75% clearance, while 65.8% achieved more than 90% clearance.

The new kid on the block is a gel formulation of a nitric oxide–releasing medication, berdazimer 10.3%, a first-in-class topical treatment being developed by Novan, which can be applied at home. In a multicenter study published in JAMA Dermatology, researchers randomized 444 patients to berdazimer gel 10.3% and 447 to a placebo gel, applied once daily in a thin layer on all MC lesions for 12 weeks. The study was conducted at 55 clinics across the United States between Sept. 1, 2020, and July 21, 2021. The mean age of the patients was about 6.5 years and participants had 3-70 raised MC lesions; those with sexually transmitted MC or MC in the periocular area were excluded. The primary endpoint was complete clearance of MC lesions after 12 weeks of treatment.

At 12 weeks, significantly more patients treated with berdazimer gel achieved complete clearance than those on vehicle (32.4% vs. 19.7%; P < .001). A total of 64 (14.4%) patients in the berdazimer group discontinued treatment because of MC clearance, compared with 40 patients (8.9%) in the vehicle group.

More recently, investigators evaluated autoinoculation vs. 35% trichloroacetic acid (TCA) for the treatment of MC. Autoinoculation involves puncturing the perilesional and lesional skin 5-7 times with an insulin syringe. “This gets a little bit of the virus into the dermis, and you hope to elicit an immune response,” explained Dr. Smith, who was not involved with the study. At 3 months, 80% of patients in the autoinoculation group achieved complete clearance, compared with 62% of those in the TCA group, while recurrence at 6 months was 3% vs. 40%, respectively.

Manual extraction of MC lesions is another option. “I love to pop the cores out with my thumbs,” Dr. Smith said. “You have to pick the patients who can tolerate this, and the MC lesions need to be ripe and ready.”

For ophthalmic lesions, watchful waiting is advisable unless the MC lesions are symptomatic or bothersome or large lesions form on the lid margin, which may cause ocular irritation or even a corneal abrasion. “If a patient presents with a multisite infection that includes ocular lesions, treat lesions on other parts of the body and keep your fingers crossed that a systemic immune response occurs,” she said.

The desired immune response is known as the “BOTE” sign (the beginning of the end), which heralds the clearance of the molluscum infection. This often appears as reddening of all the MC lesions and occasionally as a granulomatous “id-like” reaction especially on the extensor elbows and knees. “When this happens, it often scares the patients,” Dr. Smith said. But she explains that this is a positive development, and that “this means that the lesions are about to self-resolve.”

Dr. Smith disclosed that she serves as a speaker or a member of the speakers bureau for Amgen, CeraVe, EPI, Galderma, InCyte, Lilly, Pfizer, Regeneron, Sanofi Genzyme, and Sun. She also serves as an advisor or consultant for Janssen, Lilly, Regeneron, and Sanofi Genzyme.

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