Modern antiepileptic drug development has failed to deliver: ways out of the current dilemma

Epilepsia. 2011 Apr;52(4):657-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2011.03024.x. Epub 2011 Mar 22.


Despite the development of various new antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) since the early 1990s, the available evidence indicates that the efficacy and tolerability of drug treatment of epilepsy has not substantially improved. What are the reasons for this apparent failure of modern AED development to discover drugs with higher efficacy? One reason is certainly the fact that, with few exceptions, all AEDs have been discovered by the same conventional animal models, particularly the maximal electroshock seizure test (MES) in rodents, which served as a critical gatekeeper. These tests have led to useful new AEDs, but obviously did not help developing AEDs with higher efficacy in as yet AED-resistant patients. This concern is not new but, surprisingly, has largely been unappreciated for several decades. A second-admittedly speculative-reason is that progress in pharmacologic treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy will not be made unless and until we develop drugs that specifically target the underlying disease. Although better preclinical approaches will not be able to circumvent regulatory requirements, more efficacious drugs may allow us to abandon clinically questionable trials with intentionally less efficacious controls and noninferiority designs, and require evidence for comparative effectiveness. The failure of AED development has led to increasing disappointment among clinicians, basic scientists, and industry and may halt any further improvement in the treatment of epilepsy unless we find ways out of this dilemma. Therefore, we need new concepts and fresh thinking about how to radically change and improve AED discovery and development. In this respect, the authors of this critical review will discuss several new ideas that may hopefully lead to more efficacious drug treatment of epilepsy in the future.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / chemistry
  • Anticonvulsants / isolation & purification*
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / trends
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Discovery / methods
  • Drug Discovery / standards*
  • Drug Discovery / trends
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / standards
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / trends
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Humans


  • Anticonvulsants