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Seizure. 2003 Oct;12(7):413-43.

Measuring the efficacy of antiepileptic drugs.

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  • 1Epilepsy Unit, Division of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, Western Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.


Clinical trials of new antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) include regulatory studies aimed at demonstrating efficacy and reasonable safety, post-marketing open-open label studies and longer term outcome studies. Regulatory trials involve a carefully selected population of patients and are conducted under rigorously standardised conditions. Data from such studies cannot often be translated into clinical practice. Pragmatic post-marketing studies using flexible dosing schedules allow clinicians to better judge the utility of the new drug in a wider population of patients with epilepsy and decide the most appropriate dosing schedules. This paper discusses some of the issues surrounding the measurement of efficacy of new AEDs in both pre- and post-marketing phases of their development. All of the newer AEDs are initially used in patients with refractory partial seizures as adjunctive treatment. These trials are generally parallel-group studies although cross-over designs have been employed. The use of placebo-control is uncontroversial in this type of study. Efficacy endpoints are generally manipulations of seizure frequency on study drug compared to control. Global outcome measures and health related quality of life scores can also be used to measure efficacy. As the standard AEDs are associated with a high rate of seizure remission in patients who receive them as monotherapy, demonstration of superior efficacy of a new agent in a comparative trial will require large numbers of patients in a design that takes into account the natural history of treated epilepsy. Comparing investigational agents to a standard AED in an 'active-control' study with demonstration of equivalent efficacy would seem to be an acceptable way of assessing efficacy of new AEDs in this population. Some regulators, however, do not accept equivalence as proof of efficacy and insist on demonstration of superiority compared to a control. The use of placebo alone in the control group is ethically dubious. Several innovative study designs have, therefore, been used to satisfy regulatory requirements, while maintaining patient safety including withdrawal to monotherapy using high versus low dose comparators. Observational outcome studies provide the best opportunity of exploring the long-term utility of individual AEDs. Such studies largely follow standard clinical practice and need considerable time and resources. They can, however, yield valuable information about the effectiveness of AEDs in everyday clinical practice. Data from regulatory trials should be complemented by postmarketing studies and longer term studies of outcome to help clinicians decide the best way of utilising new AEDs and establishing their role in the therapeutic armamentarium.

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