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New Epilepsy Drug on the NHS

A new add-on drug to reduce the number of seizures suffered by people with epilepsy is now available on the NHS, writes Judy Hobson

More than half a million people in the UK have epilepsy, the world’s most common neurological condition.

Medication or surgery can control seizures in the majority of cases, but sadly up to 40 per cent of those with epilepsy continue to suffer them despite treatment.

The good news is that a new drug, used as an add-on treatment, has been shown in trials to reduce the number of seizures experienced by this group of patients and is now available on the NHS.

Called Briviact, the drug has been developed for the treatment of partial onset seizures (POS) with or without secondary generalised ones. In studies, it was found to halve the number of seizures for up to 40 per cent of patients.

Around 60 per cent of people with epilepsy have what are known as partial onset seizures. These start in one side of the brain but, after the initial seizure, can spread to the other side. Patients may lose consciousness and their seizure can last up to three minutes.

Often they occur without warning, making it difficult for the sufferer to lead a normal life and hold down a job. Seizures are triggered by a sudden burst of intense electrical activity in the brain.

Briviact targets a protein in the brain known as synaptic vesicle protein 2A and this is believed to prevent the release of the electrical signals responsible for a seizure.

Dr Dominic Heaney, consultant neurologist at London’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, says: “Partial onset seizures in older people can be the result of a mini-stroke, head injury or alcohol consumption. In younger people they may be due to congenital problems, a brain tumour, fatigue or being unwell Often the event doesn’t last long and the patient isn’t sure what happened, but these patients need to be investigated thoroughly and to have an MRI scan to find out whether they have a brain tumour.

“Diagnosing epilepsy can be challenging. We believe up to 20 per cent of those diagnosed may not have it, while people are out there with epilepsy but remain undiagnosed.”

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