Webinars: Two-Part Series on Rescue Medications

Seizures can be both unpredictable and unrelenting. When a seizure becomes an emergency, rescue medications provide immediate relief and help prevent the need for emergency care. While existing therapies do stop these epilepsy emergencies in many patients, some are still searching for an option that works for them.

In this two-part webinar series, you will gain insight on the different epilepsy emergencies, existing rescue medications,  promising research in this space, and what rescue therapies are currently in the pipeline. These webinars will feature leading experts in the field who have recently participated in rescue medication research trials.

In our first webinar on August 13, Dr. Kamil Detyniecki of the University of Miami will provide an overview of the different types of seizure emergencies, while also discussing the currently available rescue medications.

Our second webinar on September 10 features Dr. Nathan Fountain of the University of Virginia, who will explore the latest research on rescue medications. His presentation will include a look at the rescue medication pipeline and the new delivery methods which may become available to patients.

During a live Q&A at the end of each webinar, these leading experts will answer your questions such as:

  • What makes different delivery methods more or less effective for some patients?
  • Are rescue medications only for individuals who experience seizure clusters?
  • What are the potential risks associated with using rescue medications?

The first webinar will feature Dr. Kamil Detyniecki, Assistant Professor of the Clinical Neurology Epilepsy Division, at the University of Miami.  The second webinar will be presented by Dr. Nathan Fountain, Professor of Neurology and the Director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the University of Virginia.

European Medicine Agency Panel Backs Cannabis Drug for Severe Epilepsy

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA’s) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has recommended approval of cannabidiol oral solution (Epidyolex, GW Pharma) as add-on therapy for seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Dravet syndrome in conjunction with clobazam (multiple brands) for patients as young as 2 years.

The US FDA approved GW’s cannabidiol oral solution last year under the trade name Epidiolex, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

The CHMP’s positive opinion is based on results from four randomized, controlled phase 3 trials that included 714 patients with either LGS or Dravet syndrome. Results showed that add-on therapy with the cannabidiol product was more effective than placebo in reducing seizure frequency.

“This is a significant milestone for patients with LGS and Dravet syndrome as there remains a severe unmet medical need for these rare, lifelong forms of epilepsy,” Martin Brodie, MD, president of the International Bureau for Epilepsy, said in a news release from the drugmaker.

A Trial of Sertraline or Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Depression in Epilepsy

In this investigation involving 140 adult outpatients with epilepsy and current major depressive disorder, researchers assessed the effectiveness of sertraline vs cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for depression, quality of life, seizures, and adverse treatment effects. Patients were randomized to sertraline or weekly CBT for 16 weeks. Investigators found that suicide risk at final evaluation was linked to persistent depression, but not sertraline or seizures.

After sertraline or CBT, remission of depression was seen in in over one-half of people. Improving depression benefits quality of life despite the epilepsy-related complex psychosocial disability. Serotonin reuptake inhibition in people with epilepsy does not seem to boost seizures or suicidality.

Overlook Medical Center Performs First NJ Surgery with ROSA Brain Robot

Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center announced on Monday its nationally recognized neurosurgery team is the first in New Jersey to pioneer the use of a new minimally invasive option for brain surgery — the ROSA Brain robot from Indiana-based Zimmer Biomet.

The ROSA Brain is a surgical navigation and positioning system, much like a GPS, that allows for precise spatial positioning and orientation of surgical instruments and tools.

According to Overlook, conventional neurosurgery for epilepsy requires a craniotomy, which is the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain, so that electrodes can be placed to detect and record seizure activity.

Using the ROSA Brain robot, surgeons make tiny holes in the skull through which they insert the electrodes. The electrodes record brain activity and help pinpoint exactly which part of the brain is responsible for seizures. The robot also can assist in deep brain stimulation, trans-nasal and ventricular endoscopy and brain biopsies.

Due to the complexity of epilepsy surgery, only the most technically skilled neurosurgeons are trained to use the ROSA Brain robot, which does not require opening the skull, or even shaving the head.

Clinical Opinion: Earlier Employment of Polytherapy May Improve Outcomes

Modern pharmacotherapy for epilepsy consists of orderly, sequential drug trials, in which antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are chosen under the concept of individual patient-oriented (or – tailored) pharmacotherapy.

Although monotherapy (using one drug at a time) has been established as the preferred mode of AEDs therapy in both newly diagnosed and drug resistant epilepsies, there are still lack of evidence to favor either monotherapy or polytherapy (using more than one drug at a time) in epilepsy, which has generated continuing controversies on the preferred mode of pharmacotherapy. However, each mode of pharmacotherapy may have both advantages and disadvantages, which are different and variable related to individual case scenario.

These researchers conducted a brief comparative overview between monotherapy and polytherapy to provide clues for earlier employment of polytherapy in each steps of sequential drug trials. Previous claims about the advantages of monotherapy over polytherapy are not supported but gradually losing its ground by the introduction of a large number of drugs carrying pharmacological advantages for combination therapy.

Current evidence stresses the importance of combining drugs having synergistic interactions for better outcome of polytherapy, which has not been considered in previous clinical investigations comparing monotherapy and polytherapy. It is likely that a significant improvement in the outcome of current AEDs therapy is feasible by earlier employment of polytherapy as well as identification of combination drug regimens carrying synergistic interactions.

At present, lamotrigine(LTG) and valproate(VPA) combination regimen is the only well documented synergistic regimen, but there are a long-list of candidate regimens requiring future trials in appropriate designs.

Epilepsy Research Findings: July 2019

This month’s edition of epilepsy news features recent research suggesting that inducing a seizure prior to surgery is just as effective for pinpointing the brain region where seizures originate as a spontaneous seizure as a spontaneous seizure. In addition, CURE Post-Traumatic Epilepsy initiative members Dr. Oleskii Shandra and Dr. Stefanie Robel published work indicating that the amount of a certain type of cell may increase in the brain following repeated, mild TBIs, causing epilepsy.

Safety updates on several anti-epileptic drugs were reported, including results showing pregabalin may be associated with increased suicidal behavior and other hazards, and that certain drugs used to treat epilepsy may increase the risk of dementia. Studies also highlight the need for improved counseling for safe and effective contraception for women with epilepsy, and the need for resources for people with epilepsy in low-income countries.

Summaries of all highlighted studies follow below. We have organized the findings into Research and Discoveries and Also Notable.

Research and Discoveries

Inducing Seizures to Stop Seizures
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Causing seizures by stimulating the brain may be a convenient and more cost-effective way to determine the brain region where seizures are originating prior to surgery.

New Research Could Help Predict Seizures Before They Happen
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A new study has found a pattern of molecules that appears in the blood before a seizure happens, which may lead to the development of an early warning system.

Pregabalin Associated with Increased Suicidal Behavior and Other Hazards 
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Gabapentinoids, a class of drugs used to treat epilepsy and other neurological disorders, are associated with an increased risk of suicidal behavior, unintentional overdoses, head/body injuries, and road traffic incidents and offences. Pregabalin was associated with higher hazards of these outcomes than gabapentin.

Study Furthers Understanding of the Development of Epilepsy Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
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Featuring the work of CURE PTE Initiative members Dr. Oleskii Shandra and Dr. Stefanie Robel

A type of cell in the brain called an “atypical astrocyte” may increase following trauma, causing epilepsy following repeated, mild TBIs, according to a study by Drs. Oleskii Shandra and Stefanie Robel.

Even People with Well-Controlled Epilepsy May Be at Risk for Sudden Death
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Featuring the work of former CURE Grantee Elizabeth Donner

A new study shows the risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) may apply to individuals whose epilepsy is well-controlled. Previous, smaller studies showed that SUDEP risk was highest among those with severe, difficult-to-treat epilepsy, however, this study suggests a sizeable minority of SUDEP occurred in patients thought to be treatment-responsive or to have benign epilepsies. The study found that SUDEP occurred in people who had not taken their last dose of epilepsy medication, those who were sleep deprived, and those who had not had a seizure in at least a year.

Anticholinergic Drugs May Increase Risk of Dementia 
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A study suggests that the possible link between anticholinergic drugs and an increased risk of dementia is strongest for certain classes of anticholinergic drugs, including antiepileptic drugs such as oxcarbazepine and carbamazepine.

Research into Cannabis Dosage Shows Reduced Seizures in Children with Severe Epilepsy
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Medicinal cannabis oil containing both cannabidiol (CBD) and a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can reduce or end seizures in children with severe, drug-resistant epilepsy, a study by the University of Saskatchewan has found.

Also Notable

The World Health Organization (WHO) Highlights the Scarcity of Treatment for Epilepsy in Low-Income Countries
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Three quarters of people living with epilepsy in low-income countries do not get the treatment they need, increasing their risk of dying prematurely and condemning many to a life of stigma, according to WHO.

Bringing Neuromodulation Therapies to Drug-Resistant Epilepsy Patients
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Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that creating an epilepsy neuromodulation clinic improved access for patients and communication with referring physicians, achievement of expected outcomes for reducing or eliminating seizures, and the ability to train future providers in programming neuromodulation devices.

Encoded Therapeutics Gets $104M to Propel ‘Precision Gene Therapy’ for Dravet Syndrome
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Encoded Therapeutics received $104 million to fund a precision gene therapy for Dravet syndrome. The company will also use the funds to advance its preclinical programs and come up with new treatments for severe genetic disorders.

Improved Counseling Needed for Safe, Effective Contraception in Women With Epilepsy
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Over a third of women with epilepsy do not use highly effective contraception, despite the important, negative consequences of unintended pregnancy such as elevated risk of having offspring with congenital malformations. There is a need for more readily available information and counseling on safe and effective contraception for this community.

UHealth Launches New Deep Brain Stimulation Treatment for Epilepsy

A clinical team from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and the Department of Neurosurgery recently performed Florida’s second deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery for a patient with intractable epilepsy. The new treatment, which was approved by the FDA in 2018, offers a new therapeutic strategy for patients whose epilepsy cannot be treated effectively by medications or resective surgery.

“This is an important step forward in our program,” said Andres M. Kanner, M.D., professor of clinical neurology, chief of the epilepsy division in the Miller School’s Department of Neurology, and director of the epilepsy center. “Many patients can potentially benefit from DBS, one of the types of neuromodulation therapy, which consists of sending electrical pulses to the anterior nucleus of the thalamus and from that structure, to electric circuits of the brain involved in the development of epileptic seizures.”

A pivotal study in the United States showed a significant decline in the frequency of seizures in 60 percent of 110 patients with previously uncontrolled epilepsy. The FDA has approved DBS for patients 18 years and older.

“While not curative, this therapy over time can yield a reduction of more than 50 percent in seizure frequency in about 60 to 70 percent of patients,” Dr. Kanner said. “Our center is the only facility in South Florida offering this option for safe and effective improvement in seizure frequency.” He noted that the Miller School center has received a level IV designation by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers for providing the most comprehensive evaluations and treatments for all forms of epilepsy.

Potassium Bromide Should be Considered for Treatment of Refractory Epilepsy, Study Says

Potassium bromide (KBr) can control certain types of epileptic seizures and should be considered as an option for the treatment of children with refractory epilepsy, a study says.

The findings of the study, “Potassium Bromide in the Treatment of Pediatric Refractory Epilepsy,” were published in the Journal of Child Neurology.

Dravet syndrome is a severe type of drug-resistant epilepsy that usually emerges during the first year of life and is characterized by seizures, cognitive deficits, and increased mortality.

In this study, a group of researchers from the Chiba Children’s Hospital in Japan set out to examine the efficacy and tolerability of KBr for the treatment of children with refractory epilepsy.

Treatment was found to be effective in more than half of the children diagnosed with generalized epilepsy (59.1%) and focal epilepsy (55.6%). In addition, KBr also led to significant improvements in seizure control among the two children who had been diagnosed with Dravet syndrome.

The treatment was more effective in children who had tonic seizures (72.2%), generalized tonic-clonic seizures (66.6%), or secondary generalized seizures (75.0%). KBr therapy was less effective among children who had focal seizures (46.2%), infantile spasms (20.0%), or myoclonic seizures (0%).

Adverse effects, which included drowsiness, excitement and skin rashes, were reported in 13 (31.0%) children participating in the study.

Zogenix Completes Enrollment in Phase 3 Trial of FINTEPLA® in Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome

Zogenix, Inc. announced that it has completed enrollment for, and randomized the last patient into the treatment period of, Study 1601, the Company’s Phase 3 clinical trial of its lead investigational therapy, FINTEPLA® (ZX008, fenfluramine), for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS), a severe and often treatment-resistant childhood-onset epilepsy.

“We have been extremely pleased with the rate of enrollment in this trial and look forward to the availability of top-line safety and efficacy data in the first quarter of 2020,” said Gail M. Farfel, PhD, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer of Zogenix.  “Based on the compelling data generated in the previously completed Phase 2 study, we believe this promising drug candidate has the potential to become an important new treatment option for the control of seizures in patients suffering from LGS.”

FINTEPLA for the treatment of LGS has previously been designated as an orphan drug by both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency.

Inhaled Alprazolam Rapidly Suppresses Epileptic Activity in Photosensitive Participants

OBJECTIVE: Treatment options for seizure clusters are limited; the need for easy-to-administer treatments remains. The Staccato system delivers drug deep into the lung via inhalation. In this phase 2a study, researchers investigated the ability of three different doses of Staccato alprazolam to suppress the electroencephalographic (EEG) photoparoxysmal response (PPR) compared with placebo in participants with photosensitive seizures.

METHODS: Adults (18-60 years) with a diagnosis and history of PPR on EEG with or without an epilepsy diagnosis were eligible to participate. Participants received Staccato alprazolam 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 mg, and Staccato placebo (twice) in random order. Intermittent photic stimulation and clinical assessments were performed at one predose and seven postdose time points. The primary endpoint of the study was the change in standardized photosensitivity range (SPR) in participants receiving each dose of Staccato alprazolam.

RESULTS: Fifteen participants with a prior epilepsy diagnosis were screened; five were enrolled, randomized, and completed the study. All participants were white females with a mean (SD) age of 27.2 (6.8) years. All doses of Staccato alprazolam reduced the SPR at 2 minutes; the effect was sustained through 4 hours for the 0.5-mg dose and 6 hours for the 1.0- and 2.0-mg doses. The magnitude and duration of sedation and sleepiness were dose-related. Four participants (80%) experienced 1 or more adverse events (AE); none was severe or serious. Cough, diarrhea, dysgeusia, oral dysesthesia, sedation, and somnolence were experienced by two participants (40%) each.

SIGNIFICANCE: This proof-of-concept study demonstrated that Staccato alprazolam 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 mg rapidly suppressed epileptiform activity in photosensitive participants with epilepsy. The adverse event [negative side effect] profile of Staccato alprazolam was similar to what has been reported for alprazolam for other indications. The results support further development of Staccato alprazolam as a rescue medication for the acute treatment of seizures.