Geriatric Depression Study Could Lead to New Type of Antidepressant

August 22, 2002

The University of Rochester Medical Center has been selected as a site for a multi-center study of a new antidepressant to fight geriatric depression. The study will determine if a substance called MK-0869 can prevent older patients with major depression who improved with the medication from having a relapse later. If medications like MK-0869 are shown to be safe and effective, a totally new class of antidepressants would be created, explains Adrian Leibovici, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the principal investigator for the Rochester site. "This new type of antidepressant would function completely differently from existing antidepressants, allowing us to use them alone or in combination with those drugs," he explains. "Overall, our ability to fight depression would be improved." The study is especially important because, typically, new drugs in the pre-approval stage are tested only in younger patients, and the results are simply assumed to apply to the elderly as well. But this study will look specifically at the effects in older populations, where depression is an especially serious problem. The new drug is considered promising because it inhibits the receptors for substance P, which acts as a neurotransmitter in brain areas known to be associated with some forms of depression. Several such substance P inhibitors have been developed and are currently being tested in patients with depression, with promising preliminary results. As the life expectancy of Americans increases, finding ever more effective treatments for geriatric depression is becoming a public health priority, says Leibovici. About 540 patients in several centers around the country are expected to enroll in the initial phase of the study. About 18 patients 65 or older will be enrolled locally. People interested in learning about referrals for enrollment in the study can call Dr. Leibovici at (585) 275-6821 or Tammy Bilinski at (585) 275-0300, ext. 2237.

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