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J Med Chem. 2004 Jan 29;47(3):530-49.

Discovery of 4-substituted pyrrolidone butanamides as new agents with significant antiepileptic activity.

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  • 1Chemical Research, Preclinical CNS Research, and In Vitro Pharmacology, UCB S.A., Pharma Sector, Chemin du Foriest, B-1420 Braine l'Alleud, Belgium.


(S)-alpha-ethyl-2-oxopyrrolidine acetamide 2 (levetiracetam, Keppra, UCB S.A.), a structural analogue of piracetam, has recently been approved as an add-on treatment of refractory partial onset seizures in adults. This drug appears to combine significant efficacy and high tolerability due to a unique mechanism of action. The latter relates to a brain-specific binding site for 2 (LBS for levetiracetam binding site) that probably plays a major role in its antiepileptic properties. Using this novel molecular target, we initiated a drug-discovery program searching for ligands with significant affinity to LBS with the aim to characterize their therapeutic potential in epilepsy and other central nervous system diseases. We systematically investigated the various positions of the pyrrolidone acetamide scaffold. We found that (i) the carboxamide moiety on 2 is essential for affinity; (ii) among 100 different side chains, the preferred substitution alpha to the carboxamide is an ethyl group with the (S)-configuration; (iii) the 2-oxopyrrolidine ring is preferred over piperidine analogues or acyclic compounds; (iv) substitution of positions 3 or 5 of the lactam ring decreases the LBS affinity; and (v) 4-substitution of the lactam ring by small hydrophobic groups improves the in vitro and in vivo potency. Six interesting candidates substituted in the 4-position have been shown to be more potent antiseizure agents in vivo than 2. Further pharmacological studies from our group led to the selection of (2S)-2-[(4R)-2-oxo-4-propylpyrrolidin-1-yl]butanamide 83alpha (ucb 34714) as the most interesting candidate. It is approximately 10 times more potent than 2 as an antiseizure agent in audiogenic seizure-prone mice. A clinical phase I program has been successfully concluded and 83alpha will commence several phase II trials during 2003.

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