A new wave of research is uncovering cutting edge therapies for the treatment and management of epilepsy in Australia and overseas.
Innovative research by Professor Adam McCluskey and his team at Newcastle University seeks to develop anti-epileptic drugs by inhibiting the proteins responsible for triggering the release and recycling of chemical signals that lead to seizures. Meanwhile new findings in the field of medicinal cannabis has shown a reduction in paediatric epileptic seizures for patients prescribed Cannabidiol (CBD) the active compound in cannabis.
Australian State and Federal legislation, however, may inhibit the access to some therapies for the estimated 250,000 Australians living with epilepsy every day.
Health industry leaders, not for profit groups and patient advocates came together at a recent event hosted by William Buck to learn more about the development of new drugs from Professor McCluskey. Dr Teresa Nicoletti, a Partner at Piper Alderman at the time, but now a Partner at Mills Oakley spoke on the Australian regulatory environment in relation to cannabis producers.
The epileptic drug revolution
The Australian Cancer Research Foundation Centre for Kinomics flow chemistry laboratory based at The University of Newcastle is a world-first research facility, arguably second only to the CSIRO lab in Melbourne. It’s here that Professor Adam McCluskey together with Phil Robinson from the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) are developing drugs to tackle epilepsy.
A medicinal chemist, McCluskey’s research focuses on the key signalling proteins in the body responsible for biological functions. Studying these proteins, known as GTPases, McCluskey and his team aim to find the keys to each protein to either ‘unlock’ the protein to create a biological function or ‘lock’ the protein to inhibit a specific function. The ‘keys’ identified are the foundations of new drugs.
In the case of epilepsy, the protein being targeted is Dynamin 1. Dynamin 1 is responsible for recycling synapses in the body. For epilepsy sufferers this recycling process occurs at a much higher rate than the general population causing seizures. By identifying the key to unlock Dynamin 1, the team has been able to modulate the protein to reduce the rate of synapse recycling and either prevent or reduce the severity of seizures.
While still at the laboratory stage, animal studies, the discovery of Dynamin 1 inhibitors as an anti-epileptic drug promises future relief for epileptic patients. What’s particularly exciting is the relative efficiency that the Centre for Kinomics has achieved in identifying the inhibitors. Using computer modelling, the lab has been able to profile thousands of chemical compounds and test their effectiveness in inhibiting proteins in a virtual world. When you consider that for a single drug to go to market pharmaceutical companies test over 10,000 compounds, the ability to synthesise compounds in a virtual environment can be cost effective, create a better yield and minimise variability.
In the current environment, the Centre for Kinomics will not be able to bring these innovative drugs to market but are looking to leverage the work undertaken by large pharmaceutical companies in order to commercialise and make them available.
Cultivating Medical Cannabis now legal but therapeutic remedies not yet available
Businesses across Australia can now apply for a license to legally grow cannabis for medicinal purposes. However, it could still be some time before a fully functioning system is in place to provide patients access to cannabis and cannabis-related drugs to ease their suffering.
Dr Teresa Nicoletti, Partner at Mills Oakley believes that it’s Australia’s complex regulatory framework that is preventing patients with epilepsy and other serious illnesses from accessing life-changing therapies available in other countries.