The Scottish Medicines Consortium has announced that Epidyolex will be the first cannabis-based medicine to be approved for use on the NHS. The CBD-based drug is used to treat rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy in children.
The move will bring the availability of medical cannabis in Scotland in line with England and Wales, where Epidyolex is already available through the NHS. In November 2019, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended the use of the drug for certain forms of epilepsy in England and Wales.
Who is Eligible for Epidyolex through the NHS?
The medication will be available in conjunction with clobazam to treat Lennox Gastaut and Dravet syndromes – rare forms of epilepsy that are resistant to routine treatments. Lennox Gastaut and Dravet syndromes usually develop in early childhood, causing frequent and severe seizures which can significantly affect the quality of life of patients as well as their families and carers.
These forms of epilepsy are relatively rare with an estimated 2-3 per every 500 childhood epilepsy patients being diagnosed with Dravet syndrome. Lennox Gastaut syndrome is thought to account for less than 5% of all childhood epilepsy cases.
Why has the Medicine been Approved?
Epidyolex was the first cannabis-based medicine to be licensed in the UK following the rescheduling of cannabis to allow for medical use in 2018. The product is manufactured by British company GW Pharmaceutical and has been licensed for use in England and Wales as well as in the USA.
The product contains cannabidiol, more commonly known by its abbreviated name, CBD. This cannabinoid has gained increasing attention in the medical world due to its proposed potential in the treatment of a variety of conditions. Unlike THC – another well-known cannabinoid – CBD does not induce the ‘high’ often associated with cannabis.
Cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years, with evidence of the plant being used for the treatment of epilepsy dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Modern evidence shows that adding CBD to existing treatments could reduce seizures by up to two-thirds. However, scientists and doctors are still unsure how the cannabinoid works to prevent seizures.
The drug was approved for use on the NHS following an assessment through the patient and engagement (PACE) process. This process is used by the Scottish Medicines Consortium to assess medicines for rare conditions and end-of-life care.
Chairman of the Scottish Medicines Consortium, Mark MacGregor said of the change:
“We know from the powerful testimony given by patients and clinicians in our PACE meetings that our decisions on cannabidiol for both Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome will be welcomed, and hopefully provide some relief for patients and their families.”