Common acne medication shows promise in treating multiple sclerosis

Posted on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dr. Mark Freedman

Dr. Mark Freedman

Clinical trial shows that minocycline, an oral acne medication, can slow the progress of relapsing-remitting MS

A common oral acne medication could provide new, affordable treatment options for Canadians suffering from relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, according to the results of a Canadian clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Phase 3 trial showed that minocycline could slow the progress of the disease in people who have recently experienced their first symptoms.

Led by researchers at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Cumming School of Medicine, the trial included 142 participants between the ages of 18 and 60 at 12 sites across Canada. The Ottawa trial was led by Dr. Mark Freedman, a neurologist and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ottawa.

“The trial shows that minocycline, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, slows the progress of early-onset multiple sclerosis by reducing inflammation associated with flare-ups of the disease. It could be a safe and affordable option for people who are unable to get access to currently approved treatments,” said Freedman. 

About 100,000 Canadians are currently living with multiple sclerosis, the highest rate of the disease in the world. The autoimmune disease affects the central nervous system, attacking and damaging myelin, a protective sheath covering the nerves, causing inflammation and a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, tingling, numbness, weakness and visual impairment. The relapsing-remitting form of MS causes unpredictable relapses, or flare-ups of the disease, in which symptoms worsen or new symptoms appear, followed by periods of recovery in which the patient’s symptoms improve.

Participants in the trial who were experiencing their first demyelinating symptoms were randomized to receive 100 mg twice daily of the oral minocycline or a placebo. Over six months of treatment, there was a 27.6% reduction in development of full-blown MS. (The risk of developing full-blown MS was 61% in the placebo group and 33.4% in the minocycline group.) This is similar to the effects of current therapies, at far less cost.

“The clinical results are compelling,” says Dr. Luanne Metz, the study’s lead author, Hotchkiss institute member, professor in the Cumming School Department of Clinical Neurosciences and an Alberta Health Services neurologist. “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.”

While current therapies for relapsing-remitting MS cost about $20,000 to $40,000 per year in Canada, the minocycline treatment could offer similar results at $600 per year. The drug has been used for around 50 years and doesn’t need additional Health Canada approval as an off-label prescription for MS.

This media release was adapted from materials provided by the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

The early stages of this work were supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the community. The clinical trial was supported by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation (MSSRF).

About the University of Ottawa
The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe.

The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion
The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See for more information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is a global intellectual hub located in Canada’s most enterprising city. In our spirited, high-quality learning environment, students thrive in programs made rich by research, hands-on experiences and entrepreneurial thinking. Our strategy drives us to be recognized as one of Canada’s top five research universities, engaging the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.' For more information, visit

For more information, visit Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary. For details on faculties and how to reach experts go to our media center at

About the Cumming School of Medicine
The University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine is a leader in health research, with an international reputation for excellence and innovation in health care research and education. On June 17, 2014, the University Of Calgary Faculty Of Medicine was formally named the Cumming School of Medicine in recognition of Geoffrey Cumming’s generous gift to the university. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @UCalgaryMed.

The Hotchkiss Brain Institute
The Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the University of Calgary consists of more than 120 scientists and clinician-scientists who are dedicated to advancing brain and mental health research and education. The Institute’s research strengths, in the areas of Brain & Behaviour, Neural Injury & Repair and Healthy Brain Aging, are leading to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, aimed at improving quality of life and patient care. More information on the HBI can be found at

About the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation
The MS Society of Canada is dedicated to finding a cure for multiple sclerosis by funding leading-edge research and improving the quality of life of those affected by the disease. The Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation funds large, innovative, multi-centre collaborative studies that will lead to major advances in the field of MS. A unique Canadian resource, the Foundation’s main funding source is the MS Society of Canada. Please visit or call 1-800-268-7582 to make a donation or for more information.

Media inquiries

Amélie Ferron-Craig
Media relations officer
University of Ottawa
613-863-7221 (cell)

Jennifer Ganton
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute,
613-798-5555 x 73325, 613-614-5253 (cell)

Kelly Johnston
Senior Communications Specialist
Communications and Media Relations
Cumming School of Medicine
403-220-5012 (office)

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