New acne treatment options include a tetracycline antibiotic and a recently approved topical formulation of minocycline, according to Linda Stein Gold, MD, who reviewed the data on these two therapies, as well as cannabidiol (CBD) and an androgen receptor antagonist, which are currently in clinical trials, at the Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

Dr. Linda F. Stein Gold Director of dermatology research at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit

Dr. Linda F. Stein Gold

When considering antibiotic therapy for patients with moderate to severe acne, sarecycline, approved for that indication in October 2018, has improved anti-inflammatory properties and a narrower spectrum of activity, compared with other tetracycline-class antibiotics used for the condition, according to Dr. Stein Gold, director of dermatology research at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. In two identically designed, 12-week randomized trials, SC 1401 and SC1402, researchers evaluated the efficacy and safety of an approximate 1.5–mg/kg per day dose of sarecycline in comparison with placebo in patients with moderate to severe facial acne aged 9-45 years (J Drugs Dermatol. 2018 Sept 1;17[9]:987-96). “We started to see separation in the inflammatory lesions as early as week 3, and a nice separation versus placebo over the course of 12 weeks,” said Dr. Stein Gold, one of the study investigators. “In all, 22% of patients got clear or almost clear with monotherapy. That’s fairly good.”

She noted that there was consistency in the reductions of lesion count achieved in both studies. Improvements were seen through to 12 weeks, with statistically significant reduction seen as early as 3 weeks in both studies. Sarecycline was also statistically superior to placebo at every time point studied in both trials.

In order to be judged a successful outcome, the subject had to have a 12-week Investigator’s Global Assessment (IGA) score with a 2-point or greater decrease (improvement) from baseline score on the IGA in each location, for patients who have a baseline IGA of 2 or greater, and to be clear (0) or almost clear (1). The same IGA scale was used for the chest and back assessments as was used for facial acne; the researchers observed statistically significant improvements in IGA score for both chest and back acne across both studies at week 12.

Sarecycline also had a favorable safety profile, with no treatment-emergent vertigo or tinnitus adverse events, she noted. Treatment-emergent vestibular and phototoxic adverse events both occurred in fewer than 1% of sarecycline patients. Among females, rates of yeast infections were low. When she recommends a course of this drug for her patients, “I never overpromise,” she said. “I tell my acne patients, ‘We measure your success in weeks and months, not days.’ I always tell them, ‘Take a selfie today and take a selfie every few weeks. When you come back in, we’ll review your progress and see how things went.’ ”

Researchers have also been studying topical minocycline as a treatment option. Minocycline is a large molecule that Dr. Stein Gold characterized as being “very challenging” to deliver topically. “It’s also challenging to keep it stable in a topical formulation.” However, results from two identical phase 3 trials found 4% topical minocycline foam significantly reduced both inflammatory and noninflammatory lesions and improved IGA scores in patients with moderate to severe acne when treated daily for 12 weeks (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019 Jan;80[1]:168-77).

“This drug has an interesting vehicle,” said Dr. Stein Gold, who was one of the study investigators. “If you take the vehicle itself and you put it next to sebum, it causes sebum to melt at lower temperatures. Why does this matter? If you’re dissolving sebum, maybe you’re creating an easier pathway for the drug to get delivered into the skin and into the hair follicles. We don’t know all the details.” In the two trials, 15%-31% of patients achieved clearance or near clearance of all lesions. “How did it do in terms of decreasing papules and pustules? It did pretty well,” she said. “We want drugs to meet their match in everything that we do.” In terms of tolerability, skin-related adverse events were reported in fewer than 1% of subjects treated with 4% topical minocycline foam. She noted that by delivering minocycline topically, “we get huge concentrations in the skin, but almost negligible amounts in the systemic circulation, which is important. We want to keep [the drug] in the skin; we don’t want it in our system.”

(The Food and Drug Administration approved minocycline foam 4% in October 2019 for treating inflammatory lesions associated with non-nodular moderate to severe acne).

Another potential treatment on the horizon is cortexolone 17a-propionate, a novel androgen receptor antagonist that inhibits production of lipids and inflammatory cytokines from sebocytes in vitro. “When used around the sebaceous gland, we find that the amount of sebum produced goes down,” she said, noting that phase 3 trials of the agent have been completed.

“We also find that abnormal keratinization subsequently goes down. Just putting this on the skin significantly reduced acne as monotherapy in patients with moderate to severe acne. We were able to get them to clear or almost clear. It worked on comedones, papules, and pustules. Hopefully, it will get FDA approval. This fills the one unmet need we haven’t had topically in terms of decreasing sebum production.”

Clinical trials of CBD are also under way for acne and atopic dermatitis. “It could work for acne because there are some studies showing that might work on sebaceous glands to decrease sebum production,” she said. “CBD has been shown to have positive effects on abnormal keratinization, and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Maybe we’ll have another mechanism of action for acne.”

Dr. Gold disclosed that she is on the speakers bureau for Almirall, Galderma, Leo Pharma, Ortho Dermatologics, Pfizer, and Sanofi/Regeneron. She is a consultant for Dermavant, Foamix, Galderma, Leo Pharma, Pfizer, Novartis, Ortho Dermatologics, and holds stock/stock options in AbbVie, Dermavant, Eli Lilly, Foamix, Galderma, Incyte, Leo Pharma, Novartis, Ortho Dermatologics, Pfizer, and Sol-Gel.

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