Epilepsy Drug Development Program Earns $24.5 Million NIH Contract Renewal

Epilepsy Drug Development Program Earns $24.5 Million NIH Contract Renewal

Nov 10, 2011 1:34 PM

SALT LAKE CITY–The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy has received $24.5 million to identify and characterize new drugs for treating therapy-resistant epilepsy and for acting as possible countermeasures to chemical nerve agents. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the five-year contract to the Anticonvulsant Drug Development Program (ADD).
“There is a substantial unmet need for more effective, better-tolerated medications for people with therapy-resistant epilepsy,” says Steve White, Ph.D., ADD director and professor of pharmacology and toxicology. “By facilitating the identification and characterization of promising investigational drugs for the treatment of epilepsy, the ADD Program is a unique drug-discovery program that has helped to improve the quality of life for patients with epilepsy worldwide.”

Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by a tendency for repeated seizures over time. Epilepsy occurs when permanent changes in brain tissue cause abnormal or excessive neuronal activity in the brain.  Over 3 million people in the U.S. and 50 million people worldwide are affected by epilepsy. At present, there is no cure for epilepsy and the mainstay of treatment is medication to prevent or control seizure activity. Unfortunately, approximately 30 percent of people with epilepsy continue to suffer from uncontrolled seizures or intolerable medication side effects. The Anticonvulsant Drug Development (ADD) program at the University of Utah funded through the NINDS’s Anticonvulsant Screening Program (ASP) is dedicated to discovering new epilepsy therapies.
The ADD Program has received continuous support from the ASP since 1974, when it was established as part of the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s response to public advocacy calling for improved treatment options for epilepsy patients. In collaboration with the ASP, the ADD Program has evaluated more than 30,000 investigational compounds and has participated in the development of the majority of new anti-epilepsy drugs introduced to clinical use in the United States during the past 30 years. The renewal of the contractual relationship between the NINDS and the University of Utah reflects the ongoing commitment of the NIH and the ASP to finding and developing novel therapies for epilepsy.
“When the ADD Program was established, there had been no new epilepsy drugs for over 15 years, and now, the program has helped millions of people with epilepsy by contributing to the development of 15 new therapies,” says Harold Wolf, Ph.D., project manager, former director of the ADD program, professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology, and former dean of the College of Pharmacy. “The longstanding support of the NINDS and the ASP is proof of the power of strong advocacy, and the legacy of the ADD Program will be its success in bringing attention to an area of research which had previously been neglected.”

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, as well as other central nervous system disorders including those associated with exposure to chemicals that produce substantial brain damage. The program also supports innovative basic research that sheds new light on the pathophysiology of epilepsy and provides a unique training environment for students, research fellows, and visiting scientists.
“The medications available today treat the symptoms, but not the underlying cause, of epilepsy,” says White. “We hope that promoting a greater understanding of the pathophysiology of epilepsy will one day lead to therapies that can slow the progression of, or even cure, epilepsy.”

The ADD Program is an integral part of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, which has been an internationally-recognized center of excellence in anticonvulsant research and development for more than 60 years. Departmental faculty have authored more than 600 epilepsy-related works, and many of the standard laboratory tests used to evaluate potential antiepileptic drugs have evolved from these research efforts.

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