'Rescued' Drug Could Be Safer Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

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A drug developed for stroke treatment, ebselen, that had been abandoned in its final phase of clinical trials, has been rescued by Oxford scientists, who may have found it a new role in treating bipolar disorder.

A team from Oxford University led by Grant Churchill, PhD, and Sridhar Vasudevan, PhD, used a database of failed drugs (ones that were found safe but ineffective for their intended use) to identify ebselen as a possible alternative to lithium in treating bipolar disorder.

“Lithium has been used for over 60 years and remains the most effective treatment for bipolar disorder, but suffers from toxicity and has many side effects,” said Dr. Churchill. “An alternative treatment that has fewer side effects would be safer and would likely have a lower rate of people stopping taking their prescribed drug. Lower toxicity also means fewer medical appointments to get the dose right and fewer visits to monitor for side effects.”

The researchers conducted a small trial where healthy adult volunteers were given a course of ebselen. Through tests of brain function, blood samples, and MRIs, the drug was found to have similar effects on the brain as lithium.

The researchers have obtained funding from the Stanley Medical Research Institute to conduct a “proof of concept” study for ebselen in patients with bipolar disorder, which is hoped to begin later in 2016.

If these successes continue, this would be one of the only examples of a “rescued drug.”

“Recently, there has been more focus on encouraging researchers to share these compounds so that others can find new uses for them. Even so, this is one of the first handful of examples of drug repurposing,” said Dr. Vasudevan.

'Rescued' Drug Could Be Safer Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
An abandoned drug for stroke treatment may provide a safer treatment than lithium in treating bipolar disorder.

A drug destined for the scrap heap has been rescued by Oxford scientists, who may have found it a new role in treating bipolar disorder.

A team from Oxford University, led by Dr Grant Churchill and Dr Sridhar Vasudevan of the Department of Pharmacology, in collaboration with Professor Phil Cowen of the Department of Psychiatry, used a database of 'failed' drugs, found to be safe but ineffective for their proposed use, to identify ebselen as a possible alternative to lithium, the main treatment for people who are bipolar.

Ebselen was under development as a treatment for stroke, but was abandoned by its manufacturer in the final phase of clinical trials. However, those trials proved that the drug was safe for use in humans. Initial tests of ebselen as a treatment for bipolar disorder were carried out in mice. That research, reported in early 2014, found that results were promising, so the researchers were able to use the existing safety information to fast track an initial trial of ebselen in people.

Dr Grant Churchill explained: 'Lithium has been used for over 60 years and remains the most effective treatment for bipolar disorder, but suffers from toxicity and has many side effects. It is toxic at only twice the right dose and can cause weight gain and thirst. Long-term lithium use can lead to kidney damage. The side effects also encourage people to stop taking it, which means they can relapse.

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