GE-backed Neuronetics' device may offer a long-term alternative to drugs for depression: Study

Patients received an average reduction in their depression symptom score of 22.1% with active NeuroStar TMS Therapy as compared to a 9% average reduction in patients receiving inactive treatment.--Courtesy of Neuronetics

Devices to treat depression haven't had any big market breakthroughs. But key to achieving that is to show that they are a viable alternative to drug therapies--and that their impact can show a sustainable treatment benefit.

Malvern, PA-based startup Neuronetics, which almost a year ago nabbed a $34 million Series F financing led by major strategic investor GE Ventures, recently published data on its NeuroStar TMS Therapy device showing that it can have a sustainable benefit for some patients--even without medication. Researchers seem likely to use the study to keep working to come up with an appropriate maintenance dose to support patients after intensive treatment.

The study appeared in the journal Brain Stimulation; it found that some nonmedicated depressed patients who responded to noninvasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) with the NeuroStar device for 6 weeks were able to sustain that response with a monthly dosage.

The pilot feasibility study compared 12-month outcomes for patients who had responded after an initial 6-week treatment period. In the acute phase, 67 unipolar, nonpsychotic, treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD) patients were enrolled. Of these, 49, or almost three-quarters, responded and were then randomized to monthly follow-up treatments for a year or observation only.

"While data has been published on the efficacy of repetitive TMS therapy for acute treatment of resistant MDD, until now there has been limited prospective data about using TMS in medication-free patients to maintain clinical improvement after an initial response," Dr. Noah Philip, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, said in a statement.

He added, "This study addressed an important question about whether a once-per-month TMS regimen would prolong the time until depressive relapse. Although this schedule was not optimal for the sample we studied, publication of this data in Brain Stimulation shows that re-introduction of TMS has a high likelihood of "rescuing" patients who may be at the brink of slipping back into a major depressive episode."

There was no statistically significant difference on any outcome measure, but the monthly treatment group had a longer time before intensive therapy needed to be introduced (91 days vs. 77 days in the observation only group) and they were less likely to need reintroduction of TMS. Only 16 patients completed the entire study. All patients remained off antidepressant medication for the duration of the trial.

- here is the announcement
- and here is the study