FDA Approves Cannabidiol for Tuberous Sclerosis Complex

August 03, 2020

The cannabidiol (CBD) oral solution Epidiolex has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the new indication of treatment of seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex in patients 1 year of age and older.

The drug was approved by the FDA in 2018 for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

This is the only FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from cannabis. It is also the second FDA approval of a drug for the treatment of seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex.

CBD is a chemical component of the cannabis sativa plant, but it does not cause intoxication or euphoria (the "high") that comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis.

"The FDA continues to believe the drug approval process represents the best way to make new medicines, including any drugs derived from cannabis, available to patients in need of appropriate medical therapy such as the treatment of seizures associated with these rare conditions," Douglas Throckmorton, MD, deputy center director for regulatory programs in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an agency press release.

"This paradigm ensures new therapies are safe, effective, and manufactured to a high quality that provides uniform and reliable dosing for patients," Throckmorton said.

He added that the FDA is committed to supporting research on the potential medical uses of cannabis-derived products.

Rare Genetic Disease

Tuberous sclerosis complex is a rare genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and other parts of the body, such as the eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs, and skin.

It usually affects the central nervous system and can result in a combination of symptoms, including seizures, developmental delay, and behavioral problems. The signs and symptoms of the condition, as well as the severity of symptoms, vary widely. The disease affects about 1 in 6000 individuals.

The effectiveness of Epidiolex in the treatment of seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex was established in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which 148 patients of a total of 224 in the study received the active drug, the FDA notes.

Results showed that for patients treated with CBD, there was a significantly greater reduction in seizure frequency during the treatment period than for patients who received placebo.

This effect was seen within 8 weeks and remained consistent throughout the 16-week treatment period.

The most common side effects that occurred in CBD-treated participants were diarrhea, elevated liver enzyme levels, decreased appetite, sleepiness, fever, and vomiting. Additional side effects that have been reported with the product include liver injury, decreased weight, anemia, and increased creatinine level.

As is true for all drugs that currently treat epilepsy, including Epidiolex, the most serious risks may include an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior or thoughts of self-harm, the FDA reports.

Patients, their caregivers, and their families should be advised to monitor for any unusual changes in mood or behavior, such as worsening depression or suicidal thoughts or behavior. They should report behaviors of concern immediately to healthcare providers, the agency notes.

It also points out that Epidiolex can cause liver injury, of which most cases are generally mild. However, there is a risk for rare but more severe liver injury. More severe liver injury can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, anorexia, jaundice, and/or dark urine.

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