A new drug based on ketamine could help treat depression

Mar 14, 2019

IT HAS BEEN over 30 years since a genuinely new type of drug for treating depression, or indeed any psychiatric illness, has come to market. Most antidepressants to date have been based on the “monoamine hypothesis”, which holds that depression is caused by low levels of a class of chemical messengers (the monoamine neurotransmitters: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine) in the brain. Unfortunately, over a third of patients fail to respond to these drugs, and even when the drugs do work, it can take weeks or months for their effects to kick in.

Hence the interest in a recent announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America that it had approved a new drug for patients with “treatment-resistant” depression, defined as having not responded adequately to at least two previous antidepressants. Of particular note is that it is based on ketamine, a recreational drug. Esketamine, as the chemical is known,...

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