Ecopipam, in development for Tourette syndrome in children and adolescents, has shown in a randomized, controlled trial that, compared with placebo, it reduced tics and reduced the risk for some of the common side effects of other treatments, including weight gain.
Findings of the multicenter, double-blind, trial funded by the drug maker, Emalex Biosciences, were published online inThe trial was conducted at 68 sites in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, and Poland between May 2019 and September 2021.
Donald L. Gilbert, MD, MS, with the division of neurology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and colleagues noted that all Food and Drug Administration–approved medications for Tourette syndrome are antipsychotics. The medications carry a risk of weight gain, electrocardiogram abnormalities, metabolic changes, and drug-induced movement disorders.
First-in-class medication ecopipam, targets the D1 dopamine receptor, while currently approved medications block the D2 receptor. It “may be a safe and effective treatment of Tourette syndrome with advantages over other currently approved therapeutic agents,” the authors wrote.
The study included 153 individuals at least 6 years old up to age 18 with a baseline Yale Global Tic Severity Score Total Tic Score of at least 20.
They were randomly assigned 1:1 to ecopipam or placebo.
Significant reduction in tic severity
Researchers saw a 30% reduction in the tic severity score from baseline to week 12 for the ecopipam group compared with the placebo group.
The data showed a least-squares mean difference of 3.44 (95% confidence interval [CI], 6.09-0.79, P = .01). Researchers also saw improvement in Clinical Global Impression of Tourette Syndrome Severity in the ecopipam group (P = .03).
Sara Pawlowski, MD, division chief for primary care mental health integration at University of Vermont Health Network and assistant professor of psychiatry, University of Vermont, Burlington, said in an interview that several things should be considered with this research.
One is that, though the results show a reduction in tics, the study lasted only 12 weeks and “tics can last a lifetime,” she noted.
“They also can ebb and flow with major life events, stressors, and various other variables. So, I wonder how the effects of improvement can be teased out from the natural ebb and flow of the condition in a 3-month window, which is a snapshot into the course of a known relapsing, remitting, lifetime, and chronically variable condition,” she said.
Headaches, insomnia among side effects
Weight gain was larger in the placebo group than in the ecopipam group: 17.1% in the ecopipam group and 20.3% of those who got a placebo had a weight gain of more than 7% over the study period.
The most common side effects of the study drug were headache (15.8%), insomnia (14.5%), fatigue (7.9%), and somnolence (7.9%).
A limitation of the study was lack of racial and ethnic diversity, as 93.5% of those in the placebo group and 86.8% in the ecopipam group were White.
Guidelines in North America and Europe agree that behavioral treatments should be the first-line therapy.
Dr. Pawlowski said that although effective medications are needed, she urges focusing on better access to nonmedication treatments “that work for children and adolescents” as children who start taking the medications early may take them for the rest of their lives.
Also, while the research didn’t find weight gain in the ecopipam group, the side effects they did find in the group, including headache and insomnia, “do impact a child’s life,” she noted.
“We also can’t be reassured that over the course of chronic treatment there wouldn’t be movement disorders or metabolic disorders that emerge. Those are side effects or disorders that can emerge surreptitiously over time, and more time than 12 weeks,” she said.
The study was funded by Emalex Biosciences. Dr. Gilbert has received consulting fees from Biogen and PTC therapeutics. Study coauthors disclosed ties with Emalex, Alkermes, and Paragon Biosciences. Dr. Pawlowski reports no relevant financial relationships.