Another Antidepressant Bites The Dust

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticNov 11, 2011 6:30 PM


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Yet another up-and-coming antidepressant has flopped.

A paper just out reveals that the snappily-named GSK372475 doesn't work and has lots of side effects. It's a report of two clinicals trials in which Glaxo's contender was pitched against placebo and against older antidepressants in the treatment of depression.

GSK372475 failed to improve depression any better than placebo, even though the trials were large (393 and 504 patients respectively) and twice as long as most antidepressant trials (10 weeks whereas 4 or 6 is more usual)which ought to have given it plenty of room to shine.

The comparison drugs, the widely used venlafaxine and paroxetine, did work. A bit.

One of the trials even used the Bech "Melancholia Subscale" as an outcome measure, which Neuroskeptic readers may remember as I've praised it before. Venlafaxine worked on that, GSK's new pill didn't. If anything, the new drug was worse than placebo, in that patients improved slower.

In terms of side effects it caused dry mouth, insomnia, and nausea serious enough to make many people quit the study early. But even worse, it raised heart rate by almost 10 beats per minute on average, which is really never a good sign.

So, overall, it was an utter flop. In one sense this is not surprising. New "antidepressants" that don't work in trials have been all too common recently. Just last week we learned about the failure of "Serdaxin" in a Phase II trial. Actually Serdaxin isn't a new drug but an old antibiotic called clavulanic acid that a company was trying to rebrand as a mood lifter.

However the failure of GSK372475 is a bit of a mystery. The drug is a potent triple reuptake inhibitor (TRI) which acts on the neurotransmitters serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. By contrast, venlafaxine is a double reuptake inhibitor which doesn't hit dopamine, and paroxetine only targets serotonin. I've written about other TRIsbefore.

Now it seems surprising that venlafaxine worked, but a TRI didn't, in the same trial. That would imply that blocking the reuptake of dopamine makes you more depressed, enough to cancel out the other actions which are shared with venlafaxine. Which is not what I'd have predicted.

There are other differences between the drugs though. Venlafaxine has a very short half-life - it's broken down in the body in a matter of hours. But GSK372475 has a halflife of 8-10 days. Could this be the problem?

Learned S, Graff O, Roychowdhury S, Moate R, Krishnan KR, Archer G, Modell JG, Alexander R, Zamuner S, Evoniuk G, & Ratti E (2011). Efficacy, safety, and tolerability of a triple reuptake inhibitor GSK372475 in the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder: two randomized, placebo- and active-controlled clinical trials. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England) PMID: 22048884

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