GW Pharmaceuticals, best known for Sativex, its cannabis-based treatment for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, says it may have come up with a similar compound that could represent a major advance in epilepsy.

The UK-based drugmaker noted that one of its partners, the University of Reading, has unveiled promising data from studies on cannabidivarin (CBDV), "a largely ignored natural compound found in cannabis that could lead to better treatments for epilepsy". The work was funded by, and performed, in collaboration with GW and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals; the latter two firms joined forces in July 2007 in a global cannabinoid research collaboration that currently runs to the end of June 2013.

Reading University’s Department of Pharmacy and School of Psychology have discovered in preclinical studies that CBDV has the potential to prevent more seizures, with few side effects such as uncontrollable shaking, caused by many existing anti-epileptics. It was also found to work when combined with the latter drugs, and unlike other cannabinoids, CBDV is not psychoactive and therefore does not cause users to feel high, GW notes. The findings are reported in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Ben Whalley, who is leading the study at the University of Reading, said that this is "an enormously exciting milestone in our investigations into non-psychoactive elements of cannabis as treatments for epilepsy…a chronic condition with no cure and currently in around one third of cases, the currently available treatments do not work, cause serious side-effects and increase fatalities". He added that the data shows CBDV "is the most effective and best tolerated anticonvulsant plant cannabinoid investigated to date".

Stephen Wright, R&D director at GW said the firm "has established a track record of discovering and commercialising such compounds with Sativex  (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol)", which apart from spasticity associated with MS is also in late-stage trials for cancer pain. He added that GW hopes during 2013 to advance CBDV into human trials.