ERF and Milken Family Foundation Announce Recipients of Translational Research Grants to Support Pioneering Epilepsy Therapies

Funds Support the Promise of Gene Transfer in Epilepsy, Calcium Channel Antagonists as Novel Therapeutics, and the Potential of Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation for Drug-Resistant Epilepsy

Reston, VA, December 4, 2007 – The Epilepsy Research Foundation (ERF), a unique joint venture of three non-profit epilepsy organizations to identify and accelerate the development of promising epilepsy research, and the Milken Family Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation, today announced three recipients of translational research funds totaling over $250,000. The research awards are designed to support exciting, innovative therapies through laboratory research or early clinical development and are being presented to physicians and scientists actively advancing the research with important, near-term patient benefits. The announcements by representatives of the Epilepsy Therapy Project, the Epilepsy Foundation, and Finding a Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures (FACES), as well as the Milken Family Foundation, were made during the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, the professional organization of epilepsy physicians and scientists convened in Philadelphia, PA.

The funded projects include the development of a cutting-edge gene transfer therapy to correct defective genes that cause epilepsy; a promising new therapy involving external electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerve to reduce seizures; and highly potent proprietary calcium channel antagonist compounds that will be screened for antiepileptic activity.

“Epilepsy affects over three million people of all ages in the United States and 50 million people worldwide,” said Eric R. Hargis, Epilepsy Foundation President and CEO. “Each year in the United States, approximately 200,000 new cases are diagnosed. “ Hargis added, “Our grant recipients are pioneers whose efforts may drastically reduce those numbers in the years ahead.”

“These grants underscore the important missions of the supporting organizations – to improve the quality of life for people living with epilepsy by advancing exceptional translational research,” said Joyce Cramer, President, Epilepsy Therapy Project. “Each of these research programs has the
potential to improve patient care, and we are delighted to recognize our grant recipients for their
valuable, innovative work.”

Recipients of the Fall 2007 Epilepsy Research Foundation Funds

  • Matthew J. During, M.D., Professor and Director, The Ohio State University Human Cancer Genetics Program, and Neurologix, Inc., are the recipients of a grant to conduct a pilot study to inhibit seizures caused by temporal lobe epilepsy and to reduce the invasiveness of current surgical treatment approaches by targeting the hippocampus of the brain, and delivering healthy genes where defective ones are causing the central nervous system disorder. In particular, Dr. During and Neurologix will seek to deliver the human Neuropeptide Y (NPY) gene, one of the brain’s endogenous anticonvulsants, to neurons in the hippocampus where NPY will act on receptors to inhibit the brain over-activity that occurs during seizures. This approach builds on experience Neurologix has gained through its similar gene transfer approach to treating Parkinson’s disease in a Phase 1 clinical trial that demonstrated safety, tolerability and efficacy.

  • Jeffrey L. Noebels, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience, and Molecular and Human Genetics, Department of Neurology, Baylor College of Medicine, and Elizabeth Tringham, Ph.D., Project Leader for Epilepsy Discovery Efforts, Neuromed Pharmaceuticals, Ltd., received a grant to pursue the development of selective T-type calcium channel blockers as potential anti-epileptic drugs. Their research is based on evidence that generalized spike-wave absence seizures arise from currents in the brain mediated by the low threshold T-type calcium ion channel, and that these seizures are suppressed when this channel is absent or the current is pharmacologically reduced. This drug discovery project will screen a new class of highly potent and selective T-type calcium ion channel blockers for efficacy in single gene mouse mutant models of human spike-wave absence and temporal lobe epilepsy, with the goal of showing a superior anti-absence profile with fewer side effects than with current therapies for these conditions.

  • Christopher DeGiorgio, M.D., Jason Soss, M.D., and Lara Schrader, M.D., of the UCLA Department of Neurology Seizure Disorders Center, and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, in collaboration with Todd Whitehurst, M.D., of Advanced Bionics, Inc., were the recipients of a grant to perform a randomized trial of Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation (TNS) in people with poorly controlled epilepsy. Christianne Heck, M.D., of the USC-Keck School of Medicine, also will be a co-investigator in this study. TNS is a promising new therapy that involves the external electrical stimulation of a nerve located above the eyes and over the forehead. Neurostimulation is a promising alternative for patients who have failed medical therapy and who are not surgical candidates. Stimulating the trigeminal nerve has several theoretical advantages: it is safe, low cost, and non-invasive. It can easily be performed prior to implantation of a permanent device to determine efficacy. In animals, TNS has a strong antiepileptic effect. In a pilot human study, TNS was safe and well tolerated; in addition, 57% of subjects had a >50% reduction in seizures. This grant will fund a double-blind clinical trial in 50 subjects. It will accelerate development of this exciting and novel therapy, which if successful, could make an innovative therapy available to people with epilepsy worldwide.

"The Milken Family Foundation recognizes the critical funding gap for early career physicians interested in both clinical and laboratory research," said Howard R. Soule, Ph.D., Knowledge Universe Health and Wellness Group. "We believe that these awards will further motivate the recipient researchers to develop better treatments for all patients with epilepsy."

About the Epilepsy Research Foundation

The Epilepsy Research Foundation was created to support the development of new, innovative translational research in producing new therapies and a cure for epilepsy. The organization was formed by the Epilepsy Therapy Project and the Epilepsy Foundation and includes support from
Finding A Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures (FACES). All money raised goes directly toward highly promising research projects that can be fast tracked in the fight against seizures. For further information, or to contribute, please visit www.epilepsyfoundation.org or contact the Epilepsy Research Foundation at 1-800-332-1000.

About the Epilepsy Therapy Project

The Epilepsy Therapy Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to advance new therapies for people living with epilepsy. Founded in 2002 by a group of parents, distinguished physicians and researchers, the Epilepsy Therapy Project supports the commercialization of new therapies through direct grants and investments in promising academic and commercial projects. The organization has raised over six million dollars towards its mission. Learn more at www.epilepsy.com.

About FACES

Finding A Cure for Epilepsy & Seizures (FACES) is a non-profit organization which is part of the NYU Medical Center and its Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. Founded in 1996 by Orrin Devinsky, M.D., Director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, FACES’ mission is to improve the quality of life for all people affected by epilepsy through research, education and awareness, and community-building events. For further information, please visit www.med.nyu.edu/faces/ or call (212) 871-0245.

About the Epilepsy Foundation

The Epilepsy Foundation, a national non-profit with affiliated organizations throughout the United States, has led the fight against epilepsy since 1968. The Foundation’s goals are to ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and to prevent, control and cure epilepsy through research, education, advocacy and services. For additional information, please visit www.epilepsyfoundation.org or 1-800-332-1000.

About the Milken Family Foundation

The purpose of the Milken Family Foundation is to discover and advance inventive and effective ways of helping people help themselves and those around them lead productive and satisfying lives. The Foundation advances this mission primarily through its work in education and medical research. To learn more, visit www.mff.org .

Our Mission

The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives.

 
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