Epilepsy Research

Comparing the efficacy of anti-seizure medications using matched cohorts on a large insurance claims database

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Epilepsy is a severe chronic neurological disease affecting 60 million people worldwide. Primary treatment is with anti-seizure medicines (ASMs), but many patients continue to experience seizures. We used retrospective insurance claims data on 280,587 patients with uncontrolled epilepsy (UE), defined as status epilepticus, need for a rescue medicine, or admission or emergency visit for an epilepsy code. We conducted a computational risk ratio analysis between pairs of ASMs using a causal inference method, in order to match 1034 clinical factors and simulate randomization. Data was extracted from the MarketScan insurance claims Research Database records from 2011 to 2015. The cohort consisted of individuals over 18 years old with a diagnosis of epilepsy who took one of eight ASMs and had more than a year of history prior to the filling of the drug prescription. Seven ASM exposures were analyzed: topiramate, phenytoin, levetiracetam, gabapentin, lamotrigine, valproate, and carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine (treated as the same exposure). We calculated the risk ratio of UE between pairs of ASM after controlling for bias with inverse propensity weighting applied to 1034 factors, such as demographics, confounding illnesses, non-epileptic conditions treated by ASMs, etc. All ASMs exhibited a significant reduction in the prevalence of UE, but three drugs showed pair-wise differences compared to other ASMs. Topiramate consistently was associated with a lower risk of UE, with a mean risk ratio range of 0.68–0.93 (average 0.82, CI: 0.56–1.08). Phenytoin and levetiracetam were consistently associated with a higher risk of UE with mean risk ratio ranges of 1.11 to 1.47 (average 1.13, CI 0.98–1.65) and 1.15 to 1.43 (average 1.2, CI 0.72–1.69), respectively. Large-scale retrospective insurance claims data - combined with causal inference analysis - provides an opportunity to compare the effect of treatments in real-world data in populations 1,000-fold larger than those in typical randomized trials. Our causal analysis identified the clinically unexpected finding of topiramate as being associated with a lower risk of UE; and phenytoin and levetiracetam as associated with a higher risk of UE (compared to other studied drugs, not to baseline). However, we note that our data set for this study only used insurance claims events, which does not comprise actual seizure frequencies, nor a clear picture of side effects. Our results do not advocate for any change in practice but demonstrate that conclusions from large databases may differ from and supplement those of randomized trials and clinical practice and therefore may guide further investigation.