Belgian drugmaker UCB’s epileptic drug Keppra could soon notch up another use under its European belt, after the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use said it was behind approval of the drug as a first-line treatment for partial onset seizures in patients aged 16 and above with newly-diagnosed epilepsy.

The filing is based on a Phase III trial that compared Keppra with Shire’s Carbatrol (controlled-release carbamazepine). The results showed that UCB’s drug was non-inferior to Carbatrol when used as a monotherapy in the first-line treatment of adult patients with partial or generalised tonic-clonic seizures. Moreover, Keppra had a better tolerability profile, according to the company.

Keppra is one of UCB's star products, with sales growth in 2005 of 34% to 560 million euros ($694m), and the new indication is expected to add to the product's momentum in 2006. The drug is already available in Europe as an add-on therapy for epileptic adults and children (aged four and above) with partial onset seizures, and for myoclonic seizures in adults and children (12 and above) with Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, the UCB has said it has its eye on the Belgian research operations of US drugmaker Eli Lilly, which recently announced its intention to ditch three sites in Europe. “UCB is exploring the possibility of potentially taking over part or all of these activities,” a spokesman told Reuters, although he added that talks were still in infancy.