EDINBURGH University is to play a key role in the development of a new treatment for children with severe epilepsy, derived from the cannabis plant.
The institution’s Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre is to enrol patients for a randomised controlled trial of the treatment, based at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, along with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
UK doctors have been given the green light to test the medicine, which does not contain the ingredient that produces the high associated with recreational cannabis use.
The treatment, called Epidiolex, is based on one of the non-psychoactive components of the cannabis plant, called CBD.
Early studies in the US have shown that CBD treatment may reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in children who suffer from severe forms of epilepsy.
The new trial signals the first time the treatment has been tested in the UK.
Dr Richard Chin, Director of the Muir Maxwell centre, said: “Many children with serious forms of epilepsy do not respond to the medications that we currently have available.
“We need new means of treating these conditions so that we can give back some quality of life to these children and their families.”
The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool are also driving the study while there are further centres in the US, France and Poland.
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The initial focus will be on children diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare but serious type of epilepsy that is difficult to treat.
Some children will receive the treatment while others will receive a placebo.
Dravet Syndrome causes seizures that are often prolonged, lasting longer than five minutes.
Children whose seizures cannot be controlled with existing medications will be invited to take part in the trial.
Professor Helen Cross, of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Chief UK clinical investigator of the initial part of the trial, explained: “Severe epilepsy can have an incredibly debilitating effect on individuals.
“These trials will allow us to accurately test the viability of treatment with CBD in a safe and controlled way.”
Epidiolex has been developed by British biotechnology company GW Pharmaceuticals, which is sponsoring and funding the trial.
Ann Maxwell, founder of paediatric epilepsy charity the Muir Maxwell Trust welcomed the launch of the trials, adding: “It marks an important milestone in our long journey towards understanding the condition and improving the treatment of those suffering this severe form of epilepsy.
“As the mother of a teenager with this life altering condition, I strongly support the exploration of ground breaking medications that could seek out new ways to improve patients’ life quality.”
Dr Sameer Zuberi, Clinical Lead of the Glasgow Epilepsy Genetics Service and Epilepsy Specialist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, added: “The 40,000 children with epilepsy in the UK have many different genetic causes for their seizures.
“The opportunity to trial new treatments in children with specific gene changes gives families hope for better and more focused therapies.”
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