New generation antiepileptic drugs: what do they offer in terms of improved tolerability and safety?

Ther Adv Drug Saf. 2011 Aug;2(4):141-58. doi: 10.1177/2042098611411127.


Over the last two decades a total of 11 antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) have been introduced to the US market. Randomized, placebo-controlled trials have yielded information about each drug's efficacy, tolerability, and safety profile; however, few studies have compared the newer generation AEDs directly with the older generation. Comparative studies are not always straightforward in their interpretation, as many characteristics of drugs, both favorable and unfavorable, may not be highlighted by such studies. In general, findings from the literature suggest that the newer generation AEDs (including vigabatrin, felbamate, gabapentin, lamotrigine, tiagabine, topiramate, levetiracetam, oxcarbazepine, zonisamide, pregabalin, rufinamide, and lacosamide) enjoy both improved tolerability and safety compared with older agents such as phenobarbital, phenytoin, carbamazepine, and valproate. This is partially supported by some of the findings of the QSS and the TTA Committee of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), whose review of four AEDs (gabapentin, lamotrigine, topiramate, and tiagabine) is discussed. Briefly, when compared with carbamazepine, lamotrigine was better tolerated; topiramate adverse events (AEs) were fairly comparable to carbamazepine and valproate; and tiagabine compared with placebo was associated with a higher discontinuation rate due to AEs. The findings of the SANAD trial are also presented; when administered to patients with partial epilepsy, carbamazepine was most likely to fail due to AEs, and lamotrigine and gabapentin were least likely to fail due to AEs. When administered to patients with idiopathic generalized epilepsy, topiramate was most frequently associated with AE-related discontinuation, followed by valproate; and while valproate was the most efficacious drug in this arm of the study, lamotrigine was more tolerable. What makes the SANAD study valuable and somewhat unique is its head-to-head comparison of one drug with another. Such comparative trials are overall lacking for new AEDs, although some conclusions can be drawn from the available data. In the end, however, AED selection must be based on individual patient and drug characteristics.

Keywords: SANAD; adverse event; antiepileptic drug; safety; tolerability; toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review