New Virtual Design Capabilities May Jumpstart Studies of Ketamine Use for Depression

Designed to Cure

The evidence for the potential benefits of using ketamine to treat severe depression has opened the door to more extensive research in field. Image Credit: Flickr user Adrian Clark

There is a growing body of evidence—including both clinical anecdotes and research-backed studies1—indicating that ketamine is an effective drug for the treatment of severe depression and other mental health conditions, such as PTSD. Right now, ketamine has only been approved by the FDA for use as an anesthetic.2 It is also a well-known recreational drug, commonly called “Vitamin K” or “Special K.” However, over the last decade, doctors have found that when the drug is given to severely depressed patients, even those who have not responded to other treatments, it can quickly relieve symptoms within a matter of hours.

Many doctors are calling for the FDA to expand the indications of ketamine to include mental health conditions,3 while others are cautioning against fast-tracking ketamine for approval to treat depression without first conducting additional research to ensure the safety and efficacy of the drug.4 As life science researchers explore the implications of ketamine use for severe depression, modern software can help improve research quality and efficiency.

The Future of Ketamine-Related Research

The growing interest in using ketamine to treat severe depression has highlighted the importance of conducting rigorous studies on the drug. The initial observations and results also have implications for related studies that could help provide more treatment options for individuals struggling with mental health conditions. The following are some research areas that might be worth exploring.

 

  • Large Scale Drug Trials

 

For doctors and researchers who want to see ketamine approved by the FDA for the treatment of severe depression, the most important thing to do right now is to conduct a large-scale, long-term study on the drug’s effectiveness and its safety profile. So far, surveys of health care providers in the United States and Canada indicate that more than 3,000 patients with depression have been successfully treated with ketamine, but controlled clinical trials have only been conducted on a small scale. In addition, ketamine has mostly been used on a short-term basis, so it will be important for scientists to get an idea of possible long-term health effects before the FDA expands the approved indications of ketamine to include depression, since it would probably be prescribed to be used for years for the long-term management of depression.

 

  • Drugs that Target Glutamate

 

One of the most intriguing implications of the discovery that ketamine can be used to treat severe depression is the notion that it may be possible to develop other drugs for depression that, like ketamine, target the neurotransmitter glutamate. Today, most medications that are prescribed to treat depression target the neurotransmitter serotonin. Scientists are now seeking to get FDA approval for another glutamate-targeting drug, esketamine, and it may be possible to develop even more drugs that utilize this alternative mechanism for managing the symptoms of depression. This would be ideal for patients who have not responded to standard pharmacological treatments.

 

  • Understanding and Improving the Effectiveness of Ketamine

 

One of the main drawbacks of using ketamine to treat severe depression is that the effects wear off relatively quickly. According to the American Psychiatric Association, which released a consensus statement after deploying a task force to look into the issue, there is “compelling evidence that the antidepressant effects of ketamine are both rapid and robust, albeit transient.” Indeed, doctors have found that the drug wears off after only a few days or weeks, depending on the patient. Research organizations may want to explore the mechanisms by which ketamine works in order to better understand the phenomenon and possible develop altered version that can last for longer periods of time.

Utilizing Modern Software for Ketamine-Related Research

For life science companies that are looking to explore possible pharmacological treatments for depression, the investment of time and capital is a major concern. Researchers in the field often point to the case of Alkermes, where observers have watched two potential drugs for the treatment of depression fail in phase III clinical trials. Although Alkermes has rallied and is seeking approval of a third version,5 getting a drug right the first time is critical in order to stay competitive in the pharmaceutical industry today.

Because modern software provides virtual design and predictive analytics capabilities, it can help reduce the likelihood that a candidate drug will fail in late clinical trials, and it can also improve overall research efficiency so that innovative drugs can reach the patients who need them as soon as possible. BIOVIA Designed to Cure is an advanced software solution experience that supports collaborative research driven by organizational knowledge and rigorous analysis. Contact us today to learn more about how this technology can improve research in your lab.

  1. “The Role of Ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Systematic Review,” 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4243034/
  2. “Ketalar,” 2012, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/016812s039lbl.pdf
  3. “Ketamine For Severe Depression: ‘How Do You Not Offer This Drug to People?’” March 20, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/20/520169959/ketamine-for-severe-depression-how-do-you-not-offer-this-drug-to-people
  4. “The Dangers of Using the Club Drug Ketamine for Depression,” March 2, 2017, http://time.com/4687244/ketamine-club-drug-depression/
  5. Alkermes third time lucky with ALKS 5461, but doubts linger,” October 21, 2016, http://www.fiercebiotech.com/biotech/alkermes-third-time-lucky-alks-5461-but-doubts-linger