This month I would like to share with you several promising treatment and diagnostic advances, and research discoveries. The FDA recently recommended supporting the approval of the New Drug Application for cannabidiol-based drug Epidiolex and also approved Medtronic’s deep brain stimulation therapy for drug-resistant epilepsy. Recent research has also provided the promise of new genetic insight for children with epileptic encephalopathy, and has brought us closer to understanding how to repair a “leaky” blood-brain barrier associated with epilepsy. In contrast to these exciting results, we have also learned that individuals with epilepsy are at an increased risk of dying from suicide and accidents, and a new study has highlighted the high direct costs associated with epilepsy for children with the disorder.
Summaries of all highlighted studies follow below. I’ve organized the findings into four categories: Treatment Advances, Diagnostic Advances, Research Discoveries, and Also Notable.
GW Pharmaceuticals and U.S. Subsidiary Greenwich Biosciences Announces FDA Advisory Committee Unanimous Recommendation of Support for Epidiolex
GW Pharmaceuticals plc, along with its U.S. subsidiary Greenwich Biosciences, announced that the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended supporting the approval of the New Drug Application (NDA) for the investigational cannabidiol oral solution (CBD), also known as Epidiolex®, for the adjunctive treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome in patients two years of age and older. If approved, Epidiolex would be the first pharmaceutical formulation of purified, plant-based CBD.
Medtronic Receives FDA Approval for Deep Brain Stimulation Therapy for Medically Refractory Epilepsy
Medtronic plc, the global leader in medical technology, announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted premarket approval for Medtronic’s Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy as adjunctive treatment for reducing the frequency of partial-onset seizures in individuals 18 years of age or older who are refractory or drug-resistant to three or more antiepileptic medications. DBS therapy for epilepsy delivers controlled electrical pulses to a target in the brain called the anterior nucleus of the thalamus, which is part of a network involved in seizures.
Zynerba Pharmaceuticals Announces Twelve Month Data from STAR 2 Study in Patients with Focal Seizures
Zynerba Pharmaceuticals, Inc reported new longer term open label clinical data from its STAR 2 Study in patients with focal seizures. “The data continues to suggest that focal seizures may be reduced with longer-term exposure to transdermally-delivered CBD,” said Dr. Liza Squires, Zynerba’s Chief Medical Officer. “In this population of patients, the use of ZYN002 for an additional 12 months in STAR 2 was well tolerated and appeared to result in clinically meaningful seizure reductions both across and within the originally randomized STAR 1 groups.”
Zynerba Pharmaceuticals Initiates Open-Label Phase 2 Trial of ZYN002 in Developmental and Epileptic Encephalopathies
Zynerba Pharmaceuticals announced that it has initiated the Phase 2 BELIEVE 1 clinical trial, an open label study to assess the safety and efficacy of ZYN002 administered as a transdermal gel to children and adolescents with developmental and epileptic encephalopathy.
New Testing Provides Better Information for Parents of Children with Epileptic Encephalopathy
Advances in genetic testing offer new insights to parents who have a child with a rare but serious form of epilepsy, epileptic encephalopathy. New ways of sequencing the human genome mean geneticists and genetic counselors have much more to say to parents who wonder if future children might carry the disease, says Dr. Heather Mefford, Associate Professor of Pediatrics (genetic medicine) at University of Washington School of Medicine and Deputy Scientific Director of the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine, co-senior author of findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Repairing a Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier in Epilepsy
In a study of rodent brain capillaries published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Björn Bauer and colleagues identified a seizure-triggered pathway that contributes to blood-brain barrier dysfunction in epilepsy. The blood-brain barrier is a filtering mechanism that lets nutrients into the brain but keeps toxins out. Understanding how a “leaky” blood-brain barrier can lead to seizures is necessary to develop strategies to plug the leak.
Hope for New Treatment of Severe Epilepsy
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden succeeded in reducing epileptic activity in the hippocampus. In many severe cases of epilepsy, this is the part of the brain where epileptic seizures start. The researchers used a method known as chemogenetics, which enables them to reduce activity in the specific areas and nerve cells involved in an epileptic seizure, whereas other parts and cells in the body remain unaffected. This is in contrast to current drugs that affect more or less all parts and cells of the body, potentially leading to side-effects.
Epilepsy Does Not Impact Likelihood of Pregnancy
Women with epilepsy, without previous infertility and related disorders, were as likely to conceive as their counterparts without epilepsy, according to findings recently published in JAMA Neurology. Dr. Page B. Pennell and colleagues found that 60.7% of women with epilepsy became pregnant versus 60.2% of the control group without epilepsy.
Increased Risk of Suicide and Accidental Death Found for People with Epilepsy
A new study has shown that people diagnosed with epilepsy in England and Wales are at increased risk of dying from suicide and accidents. Though the risks of dying from suicide and accidents for people with epilepsy are low in absolute terms (0.3-0.5%), they are higher than in people without epilepsy, says Dr. Hayley Gorton from The University of Manchester.
What Modern Day Challenges Affect Epilepsy Treatment?
Researchers recently published an article in The Lancet Neurology discussing the difficulties facing seizure detection in patients with epilepsy. In a recent study, Christian Elger and Christian Hoppe determined that a key challenge facing patients is that over 50% of patients under-report the number of seizures they experience, which has a serious impact on how well doctors are able to determine what treatments are most suitable for them. This also calls into question much of the previously published research on epilepsy treatments.
Study Finds a High Direct Cost of Epilepsy in Children
A study of children aged 17 years using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey-Household Component found that medical expenditure among children with epilepsy is high. The high expenditure is essentially driven not only by inpatient expenditure but also by home healthcare, outpatient, and medication healthcare expenditures.