March 30, 2023

Monash Funded $3M for a World-First Trial of a Drug Treatment for Poorly Controlled Epilepsy

Article published by Monash University

Epilepsy affects over 150,000 Australians, and 50 million globally, with one-third struggling to control their condition with currently available anti-seizure medications. These patients with drug-resistant epilepsy have high rates of disability, mental health and thinking problems, and injury and death rates.

Now, for the first time, a new drug has been discovered that is the first potentially curative drug for people with epilepsy who are resistant to control with current anti-seizure drugs. All currently available drugs used to treat people with epilepsy are symptomatic (only reducing seizure frequency in less than 70 per cent of cases), but without a sustained effect to mitigate or cure epilepsy or its associated conditions.

In a study published in the prestigious journal, eLife, and led by Dr Pablo Casillas-Espinosa and Professor Terry O’Brien from Monash Neuroscience and the Alfred, the researchers report that sodium selenate could be the first medical disease-modifying therapy for epilepsy.

According to Dr Casillas-Espinosa, current therapies target symptoms only, “so when a patient stops or misses the medication they are as likely to have a seizure as if they had been untreated, and importantly one-third of patients don’t respond to any treatments so far,” he said.

Drug-resistant epilepsy is associated with significantly increased morbidity, mortality and cost of care.

The study, conducted in animal models revealed sodium selenate to have a long-lasting effect (after months of stopping the medication) in reducing the frequency of seizures (and in 30 per cent of cases stopping them altogether) and improving other aspects of epilepsy such as memory, learning and sensor-motor functioning.

On the strength of these findings, the researchers have been awarded a $3 million Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant to start a clinical trial of sodium selenate as a curative treatment in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. This is one of 21 Monash University medical and health research projects that received funding from the Australian Government through the  MRFF announced on Tuesday 14 March 2023.