Guest Column | June 12, 2024

The Future Of Epilepsy Research And Transformative Treatments

By Mike Davis, head of epilepsy and rare syndromes, UCB

Epilepsy awareness, seizure disorder, mental health-GettyImages-1210226574

Once considered mature, the epilepsy treatment landscape is undergoing a significant evolution. Driven by advances in science and technology, the impact of innovation is being seen from early research to the operation of clinical trials, all the way to monitoring and managing patients effectively.

With a greater understanding of epilepsies as a group of disorders and a variety of underlying mechanisms that need to be addressed in different ways, there is an ever-growing need for more bespoke care and more personalized medicines.

Current Trends In Epilepsy Care

The emergence of new science and technologies alongside an increased role of the patient voice is helping to accelerate and refocus epilepsy research. The epilepsy market is transitioning from a traditional approach with broad-spectrum treatments to innovative, tailored therapies. These new advances are setting the stage for future epilepsy treatment and care for years to come.

For instance, we, at UCB, are now starting to secure a better understanding of the molecular signatures and pathways that underly the epilepsies. These research advancements, and their impact on facilitating and expediting treatment approaches, cannot be underestimated. A recent paper in Nature Communications — led by a collaboration of leading experts, including those from UCB — proposed a series of molecular hallmarks showing impacted networks in and across the epilepsies involving biologies that have not been fully explored as targets for new drug discovery and development.

The industry is also increasing the relevance, role, and influence of those who live with epilepsies across each stage of the research and discovery pathway. In clinical development, we are seeing patients become a cornerstone in the design and execution of clinical trials, earlier than ever before, especially in addressing developmental and epileptic encephalopathies (DEEs), a group of rare and severe epilepsies where few, if any, treatment options exist. 

Advancing The Role Of Those Living With Epilepsy As Research Partners

By actively involving feedback from people living with epilepsies, we inform our clinical trials and treatment approaches throughout our product development process, constantly learning and adapting our strategies to better meet these specific needs. Their firsthand experiences are invaluable, steering the development of therapies that are more aligned with their needs and expectations.

Emerging treatment modalities, delivery technologies, and insights into underlying pathobiology all require greater interaction with specific patient populations if we are to deliver targeted solutions.

Where our ambition was once mapped along a single continuum of seizure control across the broad category of epilepsy, today we are advancing solutions across many different domains and dimensions of the epilepsies. Research should be wide-reaching and reflective of the diversity of people living with epilepsy, both in terms of these harder-to-treat patient subpopulations — which include those with rare and refractory syndromes — and varying ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. In the U.S., we are focusing on understanding and building trust within communities of color, emphasizing improving equity and access.

In the U.S. and Europe, we also have fostered close relationships with patient advocates and clinical thought leaders, which have helped identify promising opportunities through programs targeting DEEs, such as SLC6A1, STXBP1, and KCNT1. In low- and middle-income countries, we are pioneering new ways to enable access to key epilepsy medications and, more importantly, helping to continually build a skilled and knowledgeable healthcare professional workforce. For example, the UCB Innovation Health Equity fund in partnership with the King Baudouin Foundation focuses on providing access to qualified neurological care for people with epilepsy in low- and middle-income countries. The aim is to reduce the social stigma for these people and their families, train health professionals and communities, and enable them to return to normal social and professional life.

Wearables, DHTs, And AI Are Improving Clinical Insights Into Epilepsies

The integration of technology into the management of epilepsies is significantly enhancing clinical insights and patient experiences, marking a shift toward more personalized and effective care. The industry is increasingly leveraging digital tools to help carry out patient monitoring, data categorization, and sequencing that would have taken months in a lab previously.

Furthermore, the use of telemedicine and wearable devices is revolutionizing patient management in clinical practice by enabling remote data collection. This is particularly valuable in epilepsy where wearables can monitor physiological changes continuously, allowing for advanced seizure prediction and preventive strategies. We believe in investing in emerging technology in this space, and we have a number of ongoing technology partners and investments. For instance, Neurava, a medical device startup supported by UCB, is working to translate research into a potential mechanism of action behind sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) into a first-of-its-kind smart wearable device, worn around the neck and the bicep, that is designed to alert caregivers of impending SUDEP risk. We now know that the data collected through these wearable devices help refine patient management practices and generate treatment plans in real-time that could enhance the quality of life for individuals living with epilepsy. 

These technologies are supported by AI algorithms that are increasingly able to analyze medical data accurately and efficiently, which should lead to more accurate diagnoses and optimized treatment protocols. With the adoption of AI into the mainstream, its role in biopharma is becoming increasingly apparent with advances in AI pushing the boundaries of diagnosis, treatment optimization, and overall patient management. AI is an area of technology that we are championing at UCB and, looking ahead, AI has the potential to revolutionize epilepsy care, promising breakthroughs in how epilepsy is understood and managed on a global scale.

We can see that the landscape of epilepsy treatment is undergoing an ongoing transformation, fueled by improvements in science and increased patient involvement. From the advancements of targeted therapies based on genetic insights to the reshaping of the marketplace with tailored clinical trial design and the resulting therapeutics, the focus is truly on the individual patient's needs. 

About The Author:

Mike Davis is the global head of epilepsy & rare syndromes at UCB. He oversees operations from clinical development to commercialization in North America, Europe, and international markets. Mike is a transformational leader known for launching brands and driving innovation. He has extensive experience in immunology, neurology, rare diseases, and gene therapy. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Sienna College and an MBA from Adelphi University.