In November, Epilepsy Awareness Month highlights the challenges faced by patients with epilepsy, which is the fourth most-common neurological disease, behind migraine, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, one in every 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. While it can appear at any time, the condition is more likely to affect younger children and older adults.
Seizures are the main symptom of epilepsy, and they are defined by periods of uncontrolled electrical activity within the brain. Some seizures are hardly noticeable, while others are entirely disabling and can result in a complete loss of physical control. The effects of a seizure vary, given that anything the brain does normally can also occur during a seizure. Perhaps the scariest part is that seizures can come at any time, disrupting the lives of patients – especially as it relates to work or driving.
For instance, patients are encouraged to take showers instead of baths, as drowning can occur in only a few inches of water, and they are advised to take extra precautions when navigating busy streets or public transportation systems. A rare – but real – risk for epilepsy patients is called sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), which is not caused by seizure-related accidents and instead thought to be the result of irregular heartbeat or breathing patterns. However, the actual cause of death in these instances is unknown.
But there is hope for patients living with epilepsy and their families. Over time, advances in treatment options have made the disease less disabling. One in every five adults with epilepsy is able to live independently, and provided patients find a way to manage their condition, a majority are able to work. However, there is currently no cure for epilepsy, and even though several effective treatments exist, approximately one million people in the United States have uncontrolled epilepsy.
Biopharmaceutical researchers are working every day to meet the needs of epilepsy patients. Current anti-seizure medications can effectively control seizures for seven out of every ten patients, but there is still significant room to improve. As we gain a better understanding of the complex neural pathways within the brain, today’s scientists are dedicated to unearthing novel treatment mechanisms.
Additionally, our ability to pinpoint the best treatments is improving as well. Right now, only 47 percent of patients respond well to the first therapy, and many patients spend years cycling through options before they find the right medicine – or combination of medicines – that works for them. Later this month, you’ll learn about efforts within the industry to use mathematical modeling to predict the most appropriate treatment for patients, the first time.
Epilepsy is a complex condition, and it will take an equally complex approach to put an end to the disease. America’s biopharmaceutical companies will not be satisfied until that goal is reached. Right now, there are 36 medicines in development for the treatment of epilepsy, including therapies that target patient subpopulations for whom there is still tremendous unmet medical need. Additionally, organizations such as EpilepsyAdvocate, created by UCB in 2006, provide community for people living with epilepsy, their family members and their caregivers.
As those in the epilepsy community like to say, “One seizure is one too many.” Indeed, this is the bar set by countless researchers, who are giving hope to the millions of patients in today’s new era of medicine.
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