- UK Doctors trialing drug with addictive and narcotic elements removed
- Epidiolex reduced number of epilepsy events for 42 per cent of patients
- Trial patients have severe form of illness and can have 80 seizures a day
A new medicine – made from cannabis – is being offered to young patients with hard- to-treat epilepsy.
Doctors at Great Ormond Street have been trialling a drug derived from the plant, with the addictive and narcotic elements removed, on patients with a relatively rare form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, who can have up to 80 seizures a day.
Results have been dramatic, with the drug Epidiolex reducing the number and severity of epilepsy events for 42 per cent of patients.
A new medicine – made from cannabis – is being offered to young patients with hard- to-treat epilepsy (stock photo)
The hope is that if it works in a severe form of epilepsy, it will help those drug-resistant patients whose symptoms are not so bad.
At present, up to a third of those with the incurable brain disorder are resistant to drugs used to control the seizures. Some sufferers are effectively housebound.
Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome starts in pre-school years, and one of the children in the UK trial is just two years old.
Great Ormond Street neurologist Professor Helen Cross said: ‘The results have been encouraging, with patients suffering many seizures a day having their fits reduced to a handful. If this drug works on one of the most extreme forms of epilepsy, then we believe it should work for patients whose epilepsy is not controlled but who have fewer seizures.’
Prof Cross, one of the UK’s leading paediatric neurologists, added: ‘It is devastating for families and patients when a child or adult has many seizures, sometimes in one day.’
Earlier trials of the new drug for another rare form of epilepsy – Dravet Syndrome – produced similarly good results.
Doctors at Great Ormond Street have been trialling Epidiolex with positive results
Seizures are more likely when patients are tired, under stress, dehydrated or have drunk alcohol.
Strobe lighting can trigger seizures in people who have photosensitive epilepsy. Cambridge-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which makes Epidiolex, expects regulatory authorities in Europe and the US to give the drug approval next year.
Exactly how the new medication works to stop seizures is not fully understood, but it is believed to dampen the excessive electrical activity in the nervous system that is the trigger for many attacks.
GW is also conducting trials of various strains of cannabis chemicals to treat cancer, and a mouth spray, Sativex, is already prescribed by doctors to control the painful muscle spasms seen in another neurological condition, multiple sclerosis.
Once Epidiolex is licensed for Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet – which both start in pre- school years – it will open the door for its use in patients with more common forms of epilepsy who are drug resistant.
There are more than two dozen drugs for epilepsy. Some patients have tried almost all of them but still suffer daily seizures.
Prof Cross said: ‘One of our biggest challenges in epilepsy is treating the thousands of patients with drug resistance. Even a few fits a day are enough to wreck a child’s education or stop an adult holding down a job.’