Sodium valproate is licensed in the EU for treating generalised, partial or other forms of epilepsy. It has also been used to treat bipolar disorder and to prevent migraine. In February of this year, the European Medicines Agency recommended that sodium valproate should not be used during pregnancy unless no other effective treatment is available, and that it must not be used in women able to have children, unless the conditions of a pregnancy prevention programme are met. These measures to protect women and their children are welcome, but we argue that they should have been instituted several years ago, as the evidence was clear as far back as 1990 that there were risks of congenital malformations in women exposed to valproate.
Our analysis shows the value of cumulative meta-analysis, which, in our view, should be performed as standard in systematic reviews when any concerns about harms arise during the use of medications. …
…, we consider that drug companies, journal editors, prescribers and systematic reviewers have all acted too late. We, therefore, consider that from 1990 individuals should have been offered the opportunity to switch to treatments with lower risks, where they existed, and given minimum effective doses of valproate if alternative treatments were not available or advisable. In the intervening years, many women’s children will have been harmed. Manufacturers and regulators should be responsible for ensuring that cumulative analyses are carried out as part of postmarketing risk management plans.