Epilepsy is a
group of neurological disorders characterized by a tendency for repeated
seizures over time. It occurs when permanent changes in the brain
result in abnormal or excessive neuronal activity in the brain.
estimated 2.9 million people in the United States and 50 million people
worldwide have active epilepsy, according the Centers for Disease
Control and World Health Organization. There is no cure for epilepsy and
the mainstay of treatment is anti-seizure medications.
‘The Anticonvulsant Drug Development (ADD) Program has been awarded a five-year $19.5 million contract renewal to identify novel investigational compounds to prevent or treat refractory, or drug-resistant, epilepsy.’
The University of Utah College of Pharmacy's Anticonvulsant Drug
Development (ADD) Program is a
long-standing program dedicated to testing drugs to treat epilepsy. The program
began in 1975 and since then has tested the vast majority of drugs used
to control seizures in patients with epilepsy, helping millions of
Unfortunately, almost one-third of the estimated 50
million people with the disorder has refractory, or unresponsive,
epilepsy that isn't adequately controlled by medications currently
The ADD Program has now been awarded a five-year $19.5 million
contract renewal with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test
drugs to treat epilepsy, and the major focus of the project is to
address needs that affect millions of people worldwide - identify novel
investigational compounds to prevent the development of epilepsy or to
treat refractory, or drug-resistant, epilepsy.
The contract renewal, awarded through the National Institute
of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to the U Department of
Pharmacology and Toxicology, represents a shift in the mission to
identify new therapies, according to ADD Director Karen S. Wilcox,
professor and chair of pharmacology and toxicology and principal
investigator of the contract.
"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," Wilcox says. "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."
ADD has received continuous funding from NINDS' Epilepsy Therapy Screening
Program (ETSP) (formerly known as the Anticonvulsant Screening Program)
since its founding in 1974. In collaboration, the ETSP and the ADD
Program have evaluated more than 32,000 compounds.
ADD received the
contract in a competitive bidding process. The renewal of the
contractual relationship between the NINDS and the University of Utah
reflects the ongoing commitment of the NIH and the ETSP to finding and
developing novel therapies for epilepsy and represents a unique
partnership between government, industry, and academia.
NIH-NINDS ETSP is pleased to continue the productive relationship with
the University of Utah," says Dr. John Kehne, 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 its
focus on evaluating potential candidate drugs for the treatment of
therapy-resistant epilepsy, the mission of the ADD Program includes
efforts to identify novel therapies for different types of epilepsy.
program also serves as a base for innovative basic research that sheds
new light on the pathophysiology of epilepsy and provides a unique
training environment for students, research fellows, and visiting
Currently, the ADD program employ18 researchers,
technicians, and staff. Cameron S. Metcalf is associate director
and a co-Investigator of the contract and Peter J. West and
Misty D. Smith, research assistant professors of pharmacology and
toxicology, are also co-investigators on the contract renewal.
there currently is no cure for epilepsy, Wilcox, who previously served
as a co-Investigator of ADD before taking over as PI in 2016, believes
that can be changed.
"The brain has remarkable plasticity
throughout a person's life," she says. "If we learn enough about
neuroscience and the details of how the brain works, it's very possible
to find a cure."