Depression drug research goes off the rails (again)

What a bummer for drug developers. In an analysis today, veteran Reuters reporters help us count the ways that R&D of antidepressants has sunk to new lows in recent years, even as mood disorders plague populaces around the world.

AstraZeneca ($AZN) and partner Targacept ($TRGT) this week revealed the latest sad chapter in the pharma industry's saga of failed depression programs, announcing that they're scrapping development of their experimental antidepressant TC-5214. And, as Reuters notes, AstraZeneca made the announcement after ditching its own discovery efforts in the depression field a while back after years of frustration.

AstraZeneca's exit from antidepressant discovery comes amid an exodus from the field across the pharma industry, which has largely turned its attention to safer bets in developing drugs for cancer and rare genetic diseases. In trials for new depression meds, developers have struggled to show that their pills lift patients' moods any better than placebos. Patients in many cases even feel better after taking sugar pills, showing just how delicate the disorder can be.

Meanwhile, researchers have been tossing up all kinds of ideas about new ways of combating the blues. U.K. researchers have seen evidence that a psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms could help people who are out of sorts, and U.S. researchers have been experimenting with the painkiller ketamine--sold on the street as "Special K"--to treat severe depression. 

Amid major cutbacks in antidepressant research among Big Pharma companies, existing depression drugs face increased competition from cheaper generic drugs. Reuters reports that sales of major depression drugs such as Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Prozac and GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Paxil have been in decline, and worldwide revenue growth of antidepressants has collapsed in the process.

- get more in the Reuters analysis

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