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Lipoic acid (also known as alpha lipoic acid) is an oral medication in development for relapsing MS, secondary progressive MS and optic neuritis. There's a phase 2 clinical trial currently recruiting people with progressive MS in the US.

Current phase of trial:
Phase 2/3
Type of MS:
Relapsing MS and Secondary progressive MS

Find out more about lipoic acid

How does lipoic acid work?

Lipoic acid is thought to act as an antioxidant. Studies in animal models of MS have shown lipoic acid may change the behaviour of certain immune cells. This prevents them from entering the central nervous system. If correct, this could stop those immune cells from attacking and damaging myelin.

Research has also suggested that lipoic acid could also help to protect nerves from damage (neuroprotection).

How is lipoic acid taken?

A tablet taken once a day.

Latest research

Phase 2 trial for progressive MS

A phase 2 clinical trial in the US is currently aiming to recruit 118 people with progressive MS. The trial aims to assess how well lipoic acid can protect nerves compared to a placebo (a dummy drug) over two years.

Researchers will be looking at whether treatment changes brain volume when analysed by MRI. They’ll also evaluate changes in mobility using a 25-foot walk test and 20-minute timed walk test.  

The trial is estimated to finished in August 2023.

Find out more about the phase 2 trial for progressive MS

Phase 2/3 trial for secondary progressive MS

A phase 2/3 clinical trial involving 54 people with secondary progressive MS finished in 2016. Researchers wanted to determine whether lipoic acid can protect the brain and slow disability progression.

Results indicated a reduction of nerve cell loss in the brain, suggesting it could protect the nerves of people with secondary progressive MS.

Earlier research

Phase 1 trial

A phase 1 clinical trial involving 69 people with relapsing and secondary progressive MS finished in 2016. Researchers wanted to assess the potential benefit of lipoic acid to people with relapsing and secondary progressive MS. Published results indicated participants responded well to the treatment, with no serious adverse side effects observed.

Phase 1 trial for optic neuritis

A phase 1 clinical trial involving 31 people with MS who experience optic neuritis finished in 2016. Results of this trial were published in a peer-reviewed journal in May 2019.

The authors found lipoic acid was safe and well tolerated. However, insufficient recruitment meant the researchers were unable to conclude that lipoic acid treatment could protect nerves from optic neuritis.

Read the full paper from the phase 1 trial for optic neuritis

Phase 2 trial

A phase 2 clinical trial involving 54 people with relapsing and secondary progressive MS finished in 2017. Researchers wanted to determine whether lipoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids can improve cognitive function for people with MS.

Results did not suggest that the treatment provided a significant benefit to cognition after 12 weeks.

What are the side effects of lipoic acid?

Extensive data on the side effects of lipoic acid in MS is not yet available. But phase 1 and 2 clinical trials involving people with relapsing and secondary progressive MS found that lipoic acid was safe and well tolerated. Any noted side effects were often related to the digestive system.

Side effects reported in other conditions include headache, pins and needles, skin rash and muscle cramps

How does lipoic acid compare with current therapies?

Lipoic acid has not yet been compared with other MS treatments.

When is lipoic acid likely to become available?

Results of the phase 2 clinical trial involving people with progressive MS are expected in August 2023. If results from the trial are positive, lipoic acid may be investigated in a larger phase 3 trial.