Ketamine Inspired Antidepressants: The New Frontier

Prozac, the first Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), was released by Eli Lilly in 1987. Compared to its predecessors, this blockbuster drug was more effective and more tolerable. As a result, Prozac was immediately popular with both clinicians and patients alike, and within three years of its release, 2 million people were taking the drug. Flash forward thirty years, and Prozac and other SSRI’s like it are still the most commonly prescribed antidepressants globally.

These drugs are undoubtedly one of the greatest advancements in the field of psychiatry, but they are far from perfect. Anyone who has taken an SSRI can tell you this fact. These drugs may cause insomnia, jitteriness, weight gain and sexual side effects, and they can take 4-6 weeks to take effect— if they do at all. Recent studies suggest that only roughly 35% of patients experience full symptom remission on SSRIs.

Major pharmaceutical companies are, for the first time in decades, booting-up their research divisions in search of a new solution: ketamine. Several years ago, companies like Johnson & Johnson and Allegran took note of ketamine’s rapid antidepressant characteristic and have since been working to develop new medications inspired by it. These new medications have been engineered to share key chemical similarities to the preexisting anesthetic and as a result work in a near identical way. Just like ketamine, these compounds activate a broad set of receptors in the brain, which in turn improve depressive symptoms by facilitating a type of brain growth named synaptic neuroplasticity.

These ketamine-inspired antidepressants aren’t far off now. Both Johnson & Johnson and Allegran are approaching the finish line, conducting late-stage clinical trials for these ketamine lookalikes. Positive results from earlier trials have already sent ripples into the clinical community, exciting some of the most prominent researchers and leaders in the field.

There is talk that these ketamine-spired drugs could be the biggest breakthrough for the treatment of depression since the development of SSRIs 30 years ago. Until then, IV Ketamine Therapy will continue to be available to patients as one of the few safe and effective alternatives to traditional antidepressants.

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