New treatment available for people with early multiple sclerosis

By Jessica Fanning
Researchers from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry are part of a groundbreaking study showing that a common acne medication called minocycline can be used to help treat multiple sclerosis (MS) in its earliest stages.

Dr. Marcelo Kremenchutzky, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences, was the Site Lead for the London branch of the study based out of the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute. The study involved Phase 3 clinical trials in 12 cities across Canada.

“We found that minocycline essentially has the same effect as all the other pharmaceuticals that are injections, and are expensive and risky, but at a fraction of the cost and with more convenience. This is actual risk reduction,” said Dr. Kremenchutzky.

These findings are significant because traditional treatments for people experiencing their first symptoms of MS are costly in Canada, adding up to approximately $40,000 a year. Minocycline is relatively inexpensive, costing about $600 a year.

MS is believed to be an autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord. The idea to test the effectiveness of minocycline in treating early MS was formulated in 2005 because of its effects on the immune system.

“Preliminary lab work has proven that minocycline is not just an antibiotic; it has an effect on the immune system. This effect on the immune system was then linked to what we believe is part of the first steps of the development of MS,” said Dr. Kremenchutzky.

Operating on a lean budget of donations from the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation, the results of the Phase 3 clinical trial are significant.

“At 6 months 61 per cent of the placebo patients developed MS, just as we were expecting, but approximately 50 per cent the patients treated with minocycline developed MS at six months. This is as good as we can do with any of the expensive proprietary pharmaceuticals on the market,” said Dr. Kremenchutzky.

Being on the Canadian market for more than 50 years means minocycline does not need more approval from Health Canada to be prescribed as an off label treatment for MS.

“Minocycline has been used by millions of people over a long period of time, and is also low in cost and safe,” said Dr. Kremenchutzky.

This research is the first of its kind in the world and Dr. Kremenchutzky says that the team is proud to be part of it.

“We’re very proud because this study is a Canadian idea that will have an immediate global reach. This is going to have a huge impact on people with early MS,” said Dr. Kremenchutzky.