Cheer Up! New Drug May Treat Depression in Just a Few Hours

For people who suffer from depression but don’t respond to antidepressants, new hope may have just arrived. Northwestern scientists have discovered a drug that could treat symptoms of depression in just a few hours.
Cheer Up! New Drug May Treat Depression in Just a Few Hours

In a world where we can find the nearest Starbucks in a matter of seconds and book a flight to Paris in five minutes, it’s no wonder there’s now a drug that might treat depression in just a few hours.

Scientists at Northwestern University say GLYX-13 can help treat symptoms of depression in patients who don’t respond to traditional antidepressant medications. Though the drug, administered through an intravenous infusion, won’t hit the market until at least 2016, Dr. Joseph Moskal and colleagues are currently running clinical trials to test its effectiveness.

Why It Matters

More than three million American adults suffer from depression, a mood disorder that often involves sadness, insomnia, weight loss or gain, and fatigue. But up to two thirds of depressed patients don’t see any results with the antidepressants currently on the market Cognitive behavioural therapy as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy for primary care based patients with treatment resistant depression: results of the CoBalT randomised controlled trial. Wiles, N., Thomas, L., Abel, A. Centre for Mental Health, Addiction and Suicide Research, School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. Lancet 2012. Epub ahead of print.. That’s where GLYX-13 comes in.

Other than its space-age name, GLYX-13 differs from most antidepressants currently on the market in several ways. Many antidepressants regulate the amount of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain, but GLYX-13 targets receptors for a chemical called NMDA, which controls learning and memory. And while it takes at least two weeks to see results with most antidepressants, GLYX-13 treats symptoms of depression in a number of hours. The drug works pretty much the same way as a current depression drug called ketamine, which also blocks NMDA action, but supposedly without the negative side effects such as hallucinations and symptoms associated with schizophrenia.

Moskal, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University and founder and Chief Science Officer of the pharmaceutical company Naurex, says GLYX-13 will be especially helpful in cases of rapid-onset depression. So, for example, the drug might be effective when someone wakes up and has serious suicidal thoughts. Moskal is hopeful, too, that the drug may eventually help treat other neurological issues, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Is It Legit?

Most people who take antidepressants are used to popping pills. But GLYX-13 will be available through an intravenous infusion that a medical professional administers. Ultimately Moskal hopes to create similar versions of the drug that can be taken orally as well as technologies to help people use the IV infusion at home.

The first phase of clinical trials on humans (in which participants take just one dose of the drug) went well; the drug treated depressive symptoms within a few hours and without any significant side effects. But it's worth noting that the second phase of clinical trials (in which participants take multiple doses of the drug) are still going on, so it’s not clear if there will be any long-term side effects. Moskal (unsurprisingly) said he’s pretty confident there won’t be any, since the molecule is a relatively simple combination of four natural amino acids that the body already produces. And researchers didn’t see any negative side effects in the first phase of the clinical trials. That said, until the second phase of the clinical trial is complete, researchers won’t know for sure whether the drug is entirely safe for human use.

Would you ever try a drug that could treat depression in a few hours? What would be your concerns? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.

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