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Expert Opin Emerg Drugs. 2012 Mar;17(1):105-26. doi: 10.1517/14728214.2012.660146. Epub 2012 Feb 20.

Emerging drugs for major depressive disorder.

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Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 3900 Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.



Major depressive disorder (MDD) remains a major public health concern, and one that continues to suffer an incompletely-met need for effective and acceptable treatments. The development of antidepressants, to date, has focused primarily on increasing monoamine neurotransmission with increasing efficacy while minimizing adverse effects. Medications currently recommended as 'first-line' are far more tolerable than the older medications they replaced, but as many as 70% of patients continue to suffer significant depressive symptoms after treatment with one of these agents, and as many as 50% will discontinue a trial due to issues with acceptability. This review will summarize antidepressants that have recently entered the market as well as those still in development to help characterize the current state of antidepressant development.


Currently available first-line antidepressants are reviewed with respect to efficacy and tolerability, and their weaknesses are discussed as targets for future development. The background, clinical trial data and potential significance of the three most recently introduced antidepressants (trazodone-ER, desvenlafaxine and vilazodone) and the most recently approved augmentation agents (aripiprazole and quetiapine) are discussed. Following a review of the current market, all medications currently in Phase II or later clinical trials are listed and discussed, based on a thorough review of the US National Institutes of Health index for trials using medications to treat MDD and a search of the Informa Pharmaprojects database for medications currently being developed for a depression indication. Compounds thus identified were then used as search terms in a PubMed search of each medication. Based on pharmacologic properties, medications in development were grouped into those acting on: i) monoamine neurotransmission; ii) cholinergic neurotransmission; iii) glutamatergic neurotransmission; iv) opioid receptors; v) sigma receptors; vi) neurokinin receptors; vii) corticotrophin-releasing factor receptors and viii) other mechanisms. In the discussion of each, a brief review of the pharmacology and physiology of the related system is provided. Potential issues for the future of antidepressant development and an expert opinion are discussed.


The past decade has not yielded a large number of new antidepressants and, with the possible exception of agomelatine, none of the newer medications that have been introduced have decisively addressed the several unmet needs in this area of therapeutics. Among the various novel strategies that are being evaluated, results of several small studies of ketamine suggest that drugs that modulate glutamatergic neurotransmission may hold the greatest promise for exerting rapid and large antidepressant effects in patients who have not responded to SSRIs or SNRIs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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