New cannabis based drug in pipeline to treat epilepsy

A Cambridge based UK pharmaceutical company, is planning to exploit the discovery of a new component of cannabis that could lead to better treatments for epilepsy. The research carried out at Reading University, and part funded by GW pharmaceuticals, has demonstrated for the first time that a previously unstudied chemical present in cannabis, called cannabidivarin (or CBDV) could lead to more effective treatment for people with epilepsy.

GW Pharmaceuticals has noted the University of Reading’s publication in the peer-reviewed journal, The British Journal of Pharmacology in studies on cannabidivarin (CBDV), a largely ignored natural compound found in cannabis.

The new breakthrough stems from collaboration between GW and Otsuka signed in July 2007 and which runs until next summer. They agreed to jointly research a range of cannabinoids as potential new drug candidates, in the field of Central Nervous System (CNS) disorders and oncology.

Dr Stephen Wright, R & D director at GW Pharmaceuticals said, “These results further underscore the potential of naturally derived cannabinoids, as medicines to treat a broad range of diseases. GW has established a track record of discovering and commercialising such compounds, with Sativex now on the market for treating spasticity, associated with multiple sclerosis and in late stage development for the treatment of cancer pain.”

In the Reading study, cannabidivarin strongly suppressed seizures in six different experimental models, commonly used in epilepsy drug discovery. Cannabidivarin was also found to work when combined with drugs, currently used to control epilepsy and unlike other cannabinoids such as THC, is not psychoactive and therefore does not cause users to feel high.”

Dr Ben Whalley, who is leading the study at the University of Reading, said: “This is an enormously exciting milestone in our investigations into non psychoactive elements of cannabis, as treatments for epilepsy.”

“There is a pressing need for better treatments for epilepsy. It’s a chronic condition with no cure and currently in around one third of cases, the currently available treatments do not work, cause serious side effects and increase fatalities. Currently prescribed drugs to prevent fits can cause significant side effects to individuals’ motion and cognitive abilities, that can adversely affect the quality of life for people who have to take them every day”

The pre-clinical tests carried out by Ben Whalley and colleagues atReading, found that rats and mice with induced seizures, who were given the compound, had less severe attacks than those on a placebo. CBDV was also found to work when combined with drugs currently used to control epilepsy.

“This is a very positive result”, says Ley Sander, an epilepsy specialist at University College London UK, who was not involved in the study. “We need new drugs, for 20 to 30 per cent of people with epilepsy, nothing seems to work.” But he urges caution, “The animals in the study are made epileptic, which is not how epilepsy is acquired in humans. He adds that what you see in animal models doesn’t always translate directly into humans.”

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