JUN 02, 2017 4:06 PM PDT

Common Drug for Acne Works for MS Too

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

A drug that’s been on the market for fifty years in Canada has been used to treat acne, but new research shows that the same drug could help slow progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that has stumped scientists despite multiple research projects dedicated to its treatment.

Ball-and-stick model of the minocycline molecule, C23H27N3O7.

From the University of Calgary Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), researchers show how the common acne medication, minocycline, could help slow the progression of MS in newly-diagnosed patients showing their first signs of autoimmune damage on the nerves.

"This study highlights the benefits of evaluating existing therapies for other indications,” said neurologist Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie. “Minocycline is an existing acne medication which is safe, and well-tolerated and it is available for immediate clinical use.” Minocycline is already approved by Health Canada, and wouldn’t require injections like many other MS drugs.

MS is characterized by an attack on the myelin sheath, a fatty protective layer that insulates neurons. Current treatment options for MS patients, especially those in the beginning stages of the disease, include first a brain MRI to confirm a diagnosis of MS, followed by treatment with injections to prevent progression if the tests concur that it is indeed MS. There is no cure for MS.

During their phase 3 clinical trial, HBI researchers recruited 142 study participants with MS, all who were experiencing their very first symptoms from myelin damage. The participants were randomized into two groups: one receiving a placebo, one receiving 100mg twice daily of oral minocycline. They received six months of treatment, and when the trial concluded, researchers saw more of reduced risk of MS progression in the minocycline group compared to the control group.

Minocycline as an MS drug would be safe, affordable, and easily accessible because of its existing approval by Health Canada. The drug works for MS similarly to the way it works to treat acne, by reducing inflammation. In the case of MS, it reduces MS-related inflammation that contributes to myelin damage.

Lead author Dr. Luanne Metz says that the results of the clinical trial are compelling. "Based on these findings, neurologists will be able to prescribe minocycline for people experiencing their first symptoms of demyelination if an MRI suggests the cause will likely prove to be MS."

The present study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: University of Calgary

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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