Sunday, April 12, 2009

Atypical antipsychotics: too hard a sell?

Use of drugs such as Abilify, Seroquel and Zyprexa for treatment-resistant depression is gaining ground. Some see an 'unmet need' for medication. Others worry about side effects.

About a year ago, patients began trooping into the office of UCLA psychiatrist Andrew Leuchter, asking whether an antipsychotic drug called Abilify "might be right for them." Few appeared to be delusional, plagued by hallucinations or suffering fearsome mood swings. Mostly, they were depressed or anxious, and frustrated by the pace of their recovery.

Leuchter wondered what was up: Depressed patients didn't usually seek out drugs used to quell psychiatry's most disturbing symptoms.

What was up, he soon discovered, was spending on a new advertising campaign touting Abilify as an "add-on" treatment for depression. For the first time since the arrival of a new generation of antipsychotic medications -- six drugs called the "atypicals" because they work differently from the earlier generation of antipsychotic drugs -- the makers of one, Abilify, had been granted the legal right to market to a vast new population of patients beyond those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

This week, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that the agency should grant the makers of a second atypical antipsychotic drug -- Seroquel XR -- similar latitude. The drug giant AstraZeneca wants permission to market the drug as a treatment for depression or anxiety that has not yielded to antidepressants alone.


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