Belviq (lorcaserin) may be a promising anti-epileptic drug for patients resistant to other therapies, according to results of a new study that tested the compound in children with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.
The study, “Clemizole and Modulators of Serotonin Signaling Suppress Seizures in Dravet Syndrome,” appeared in the journal Brain. It was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a unit of the National Institutes of Health.
A genetic mutation in the SCN1A gene causes Dravet syndrome — a condition linked to frequent daily seizures, resistance to treatment, delayed language and motor development, sleep disturbances and severe cognitive deficit.
Researchers used zebrafish with mutated SCN1A to identify new drugs that could potentially act against epilepsy in the fish. One such drug was clemizole, a molecule that acts on the serotonin receptor. Serotonin plays an essential role in several functions including mood, memory and appetite.
They found that clemizole acted much like Belviq (lorcaserin), a clinically approved drug that activates the serotonin receptor. Fish treated with Belviq had fewer seizures.
The researchers then tested the compound in five children with Dravet syndrome who resisted other drugs, with encouraging results. Initially, all the kids had fewer seizures. One child who suffered multiple daily seizures went two weeks without one. Three months later, seizure activity increased, but less frequently than before the treatment.
Although Belviq sometimes caused a decrease in appetite, the children tolerated the treatment well and none had severe side effects. These findings support Belviq’s use as a potential anti-epileptic drug for resistant patients.
“Using zebrafish, we can greatly reduce the time between identification of a potential treatment and getting it to individuals who desperately need help,” Scott Baraban, PhD, the study’s principal researcher, said in a news release.
“This is the first time that scientists have taken a potential therapy discovered in a fish model directly into people in a clinical trial,” added NINDS Program Director Vicky Whittemore, PhD. “These findings suggest that it may be possible to treat neurological disorders caused by genetic mutations through an efficient and precision medicine-style approach.”