Odds are, if you’ve ever had bad acne, a urinary tract infection, tick fever, an STD or a respiratory infection, you’ve taken a drug known as minocycline. The antibiotic has been hanging around pharmacists’ shelves for quite some time now, thanks to its proven track record of fighting off bacteria in the body.
But thanks to this new Canadian study, the familiar drug may be taking off in a whole new way pretty soon.
Researchers out of Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary wanted to see what kind of effect minocylcine would have on multiple sclerosis (MS) — an autoimmune disease affecting roughly one in 340 Canadians. So they created a clinical trial involving people who have experienced one episode of clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), a condition in which a patient develops numbness, blurred vision or muscle weakness. Usually when a patient experiences a second episode of CIS, the doctor goes on to diagnose MS.
For the purposes of the trial, researchers studied 142 people from 12 Canadian cities who had had one bout of CIS. What they found is that in the first six months, patients who took 100-milligram doses of the drug twice a day were 44 per cent less likely to experience a second episode.
“We continued to follow people out to 24 months [to see] if they did not get multiple sclerosis in that time, and we showed that there was a proven treatment benefit at 12 months, too,” said Dr. Luanne Metz, the study’s lead author. “It’s a big discovery because it’s a cheap, generic, oral medication, which means that patients with a CIS can now be treated with a pill rather than an injectable therapy.”
Unfortunately, as the doctor noted, the researchers stopped at the 24 month mark, so we have no idea of the patients’ outcomes at that point. However, this is just the first of what’s sure to be many studies on the subject.
“So we don’t know if it’s still effective over the long term and it will be up to physicians treating patients with this to know whether the patient is benefiting over the long term,” Metz added.
So what’s the working theory behind why this drug seems to be so effective with early patients? The thought is that the drug helps to reduce inflammation while also preventing the death of cells. Given that inflammation causes damage to the protective coating around the nerves, this theory makes perfect sense.
Since the drug is already so widely available and costs roughly $600 per year to administrate (as opposed to the $20,000-$40,000 costs associated with MS therapies), Metz is already giving out minocylcline to patients at her clinic who have had CIS.
“It can be used immediately in first attack to reduce chances of a second attack. One can get a prescription in a pharmacy and start right away,” agreed Wee Wong, the study’s co-author and co-director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute’s Multiple Sclerosis Program.
While we might not be so quick to take a drug that hasn’t been completely proven to beat MS, this one in particular has been proven safe for so many other ailments. It almost seems like there’s no real harm in trying. Of course, we’ll let science (and future studies) have the final word on that one.