We recently talked about the fascinating new data on the use of the antibiotic minocycline for treating stroke. The reason is that minocycline is also an anti-inflammatory and it also prevents “apoptosis” or programmed cell death. It has been found to be neuroprotective in animal models of stroke, traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative disorders. Minocycline also prolongs survival and reduces the loss of motor neurons in transgenic mouse models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a.k.a. motor neuron disease, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease.
But as with any new research, we always have to go back and re-check and replicate everything. How many times have you heard a news item about some major breakthrough, and then you never again hear anything about it?
An article in today’s issue of the Lancet has indicated that minocycline may be harmful to people with ALS. This is important and will have implications for several clinical trials that are either planned or in progress for trying minocycline in people with dementia, stroke, Huntington's disease and multiple sclerosis.
The United States Western ALS Study Group based at Columbia University in New York, undertook a randomized phase III trial to test the efficacy of minocycline as a treatment for ALS in 412 patients. Patients who took minocycline deteriorated at a 25% faster rate compared with people on placebo.
Therefore the authors suggest that trials of minocycline in other neurological diseases should be reassessed. It is possible that minocycline might be detrimental in patients with other neurological diseases as well.
There is also an editorial comment by Mike Swash, who was once one of my teachers. He talks about the importance of early diagnosis in ALS:
"Clinicians and patients alike would prefer ALS therapy to be tested as early as possible, but there are unresolved difficulties with accurate early diagnosis, particularly the absence of a specific diagnostic test. Might some of the compounds that have failed in clinical trials show benefit if tested at disease onset in human beings?" He concludes that the time has come for new approaches to trial design: "The aim must be to design informative, short, inexpensive, and sensitive phase I/II studies before large phase III studies are attempted".
This is another one of those examples where a medicine introduced for one indication may have many others. In contrast to an antibiotic being used to treat neurological problems, there has recently also been a great deal of interest in the antibiotic potential of some medicines used to treat depression and psychosis.
There is a mountain of new information on this topic, which promises to revolutionize many of our concepts of health and disease. I shall keep you posted as more material is published.