The Genetics of Depression – Targeted Treatments

April 5, 2006

Brussels, 04 Apr 2006

Lethargy, loss of appetite, tearfulness … some common symptoms of depression, an illness striking one in five people at one point in their lives. The EU-supported GENDEP is working to help clinicians diagnose and manage patients with depression. The project's interim findings are now available on its public-access website.

At some point in their lives, one in five people suffer from an episode of depression severe enough to warrant drug treatment. Traditionally, however, doctors are forced to make an educated guess on which antidepressant is best for their patient. Meaning it could take several attempts to get it right and patients may have to deal with the side effects in the meantime.

Partners in the EU-funded GENDEP project saw a clear need to refine the selection process. But the big question was how? The three-year, €7.5 million project is in the process of developing a genetic test to help doctors make informed prescription decisions. Led by a team at the Medical Research Council's (MRC) Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre (UK), the Sixth Framework Programme-funded consortium involves some 20 partners from ten countries, including new Member States Slovenia, Poland and Croatia.

MRC's Peter McGuffin noted at the start of the study that it has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of depression. "Its main aim is to make it easier for doctors to decide which antidepressant will be most likely to work for a given depressed person, with the least side effects, but the research will also help us understand depression better, and may lead to the development of new and improved treatments in the future," he said.

Pharmacogenomics to the test

The team are taking a multi-pronged approach, including patient studies, basic research, and consideration of some of the key ethical issues of genetically tailored treatments for depression – i.e. the views of patients and the general public. The team will follow 1 000 depressed patients in 13 European centres as they take one of two common antidepressant drugs.

A major feature of the project, according to the partners, is the active involvement of key stakeholders, including psychiatric service users, practicing clinicians and industrial partners. Another important feature is GENDEP's communication strategy for disseminating its results, which are already coming in two-thirds of the way through the initiative.

"The exploitable knowledge created includes know-how about how to conduct a large-scale multi-centre human pharmacogenomics study, knowledge of biomarkers associated with clinical response to antidepressants in various model systems and the human pharmacogenomics study, and druggable targets for pharmaceutical drug discovery," notes GENDEP on its results web-page. Patents will be sought at the appropriate time, with commercialisation to be undertaken by the relevant partners or agents.

GENDEP partners have made a number of presentations at international conferences and the British Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial on the project's work. The project has also appeared in the mainstream press, including Nature and on Channel 4 News in the UK. In July 2005, a public-access website was launched. A full review of its work performed up to week 22 is available on the site. Reports and data are being made available to appropriate users, and a conference is planned at the end of the project.

DG Research
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