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Marijuana-Derived Drug Effective In Treating Rare Form Of Epilepsy

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A marijuana-based drug developed by a British biotech company has once again shown positive results in the treatment of a rare form of childhood epilepsy, in turn causing the firm's shares to soar.

During a phase three clinical trial, GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex drug was discovered to be effective at reducing the number of seizures among patients diagnosed with a severe type of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.

In March, the same drug was found to have positive effects on another type of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, which currently has no official treatment.

In the new study, Epidiolex reduced the number of seizures in a month by 44 percent when compared to those taking a placebo which reduced the seizures only by 22 percent.

Because of the positive results, GW Pharmaceuticals saw its stock increase by more than 10 percent on June 27.

The results of the phase three trial put the drug a few steps closer to getting approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If it does get approved, Epidiolex would become the first of its kind to win such an approval for the treatment of rare types of childhood epilepsy.

Researchers say Epidiolex contains one of the active chemical founds in marijuana called cannabidiol. However, unlike THC — marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, cannabidiol does not induce feelings of intoxication or euphoria. Cannabidiol has also been associated with different kinds of pain relief and studied in multiple clinical studies.

Cannabidiol As A Treatment

All over the world, epilepsy affects approximately 4.3 million people, but the types of the illness and the kinds of seizures that patients experience may vary.

This means that not every person with epilepsy will respond well to the certain treatments, even those treatments with cannabidiol.

Aside from seeking approval for Epidiolex as a treatment for Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, GW Pharmaceuticals is also exploring cannabidiol as a potential treatment for patients with infantile spasms and tuberous sclerosis complex. The latter is a genetic disorder that causes the formation of tumors in various organs that can result in seizures.

Furthermore, the biotech company is testing how well Epidiolex works as a treatment for other types of epilepsy. The company hopes that eventually, a patient taking the drug would be able to reduce the number of seizures and stop experiencing the seizures entirely.

Steve Schultz, vice president of the biotech company, says that even though marijuana is available in the market — and even those that only have cannabidiol, especially in Colorado — a prescription version of cannabidiol is still worthwhile.

The difference is in the uniformity, he says. The "artisanal products" can be influenced by pesticides or fertilizers, but the prescription version wouldn't.

"It will have the hallmarks of a true pharmaceutical medicine," says Schultz.

Meanwhile, GW Pharmaceuticals plans to file for approval with the FDA by the end of 2016.

Photo: Miran Rijavec | Flickr

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