"An old-fashioned, inexpensive antibiotic commonly used to clear up pimply faces and bacterial infections is about to be put to the test against multiple sclerosis.
Researchers hope the $4-million study, involving more than 200 people in 13 Canadian cities, will prove minocycline pills can, indeed, help stop the progression of the disease.
Tony Traboulsee, a neurologist at the University of British Columbia MS clinic, said the trial stems from animal research done by a former UBC scientist, V. Wee Yong, showing minocycline - in the tetracycline family of antibiotics - can inhibit the activities of an enzyme and cells that initiate MS attacks and that it has anti-inflammatory action that may shield myelin, the protective sheaf around the nerve fibres of the brain and spinal cord.
University of Calgary, the centre leading the two-year minocycline trial that will begin in January. Yong carried out a previous small trial that showed minocycline significantly decreased brain lesions in MS patients.
Yong and fellow researchers carried out another nine-month trial in which minocycline was combined with an injectable drug called Copaxone. That study, whose patients had more advanced cases of MS, suggested that minocycline is most beneficial at the outset of disease symptoms, when it can actually halt progression.
Participants in this next study, sponsored by the MS Society of Canada, must be referred within 90 days of their first MS symptoms. Anyone who waits longer than that will be excluded.
"The benefits of minocycline are straightforward," said Luanne Metz, principal investigator in the trial and director of the Foothills Hospital MS Clinic in Calgary. "It's relatively cheap ($800 a year compared to other drug treatments that can cost up to $40,000 a year), has few side effects and can be taken in pill format. The aim of our research is to see if this common drug can reduce the occurrence of further disease activity in people who have experienced an initial attack of MS symptoms and who are at high risk of progressing to definite MS."
Metz said that two-thirds of people who get an initial attack of MS symptoms will be diagnosed with MS within six months but if minocycline is used at the outset of symptoms, "we believe we can reduce this number."
Traboulsee, who is on the clinical steering committee for the trial, said while long-term antibiotic use may lead to the development of antibiotic resistance, it is not considered a major concern in the MS trial because the drug is not being used to treat infection.
November 1 - UPDATE... In ALS this is showing very negative results and warnings of caution for testing this med in other neurological diseases is being flagged.