Epilepsy Research Grant Awarded to Pharmacy School

The National Institutes of Health awarded a $19.5 million grant for research in refractory epilepsy.

A division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded $19.5 million to the University of Utah College of Pharmacy’s Anticonvulsant Drug Development (ADD) program.

This award was granted for the investigation of novel drugs to treat or prevent epilepsy, specifically treatment-resistant epilepsy, according to a press release from the university.

The ADD program, which started in 1975, has tested a majority of the current epilepsy medications. However, these treatments are ineffective for patients with refractory epilepsy unable to benefit from symptom-controlling medications.

The contract renewal granted through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) demonstrates a shift towards identifying novel treatments for these patients, according to the press release.

“We’re proud that over the past 41 years, the ADD program has played a key role in identifying and characterizing many of the drugs now available to treat patients with epilepsy and to control their seizures,” said principal investigator of the contract Karen S. Wilcox, PhD. “Now, we’re looking for drugs that can modify or prevent the disease, particularly in those patients either with refractory epilepsy or at risk for developing epilepsy following a brain injury.”

Approximately 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, with 2.9 million in the United States alone. The neurological disorder occurs when brain changes cause abnormal neuronal activity. There is no cure for epilepsy, which is characterized by repetitive seizures, but anti-seizure medications can effectively control symptoms in certain patients.

The ADD program has received continuous funding from the NINDS Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program (ETSP) since it was created. According to the university, both programs have tested more than 32,000 drug compounds.

The university previously received the contract from the NIH during a bidding process, and the latest renewal of the contract demonstrates the commitment of the organization to create new drugs for patients with refractory epilepsy. This contract aligns the government with industry and academia institutions to explore the future of epilepsy treatment in ways these entities could not otherwise explore, according to the release.

“The NIH-NINDS ETSP is pleased to continue the productive relationship with the University of Utah,” says John Kehne, PhD, a program director at NINDS and head of the ETSP. “These and other efforts supported by the NINDS will help to discover new pharmacotherapies to address the unmet medical needs of people living with epilepsy.”

In addition to the ADD program’s focus on refractory epilepsy, the program also aims to develop new treatments for various types of the disease. It also provides a foundation for innovative research regarding the pathophysiology of the disease, and gives students, research fellows, and visiting scientists a unique training experience, according to the press release.

The program and the renewed contract, could lead to a potential cure for epilepsy, according to Dr Wilcox.

“The brain has remarkable plasticity throughout a person’s life,” she concluded. “If we learn enough about neuroscience and the details of how the brain works, it’s very possible to find a cure.”