Ketamine-based antidepressants that work within hours might be on the market within three years.
Antidepressant drugs that work in hours instead of weeks could be on the market within three years, researchers say.
“We’re getting closer and closer to having really, truly next-generation treatments that are better and quicker than existing ones,” says Dr. Carlos Zarate, a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health.
The new drugs are based on the anesthetic ketamine, which is also a popular club drug known as Special K. Unlike current antidepressants, which can take weeks to work, ketamine-like drugs have an immediate effect. They also have helped people with depression who didn’t respond to other medications.
The drug that is furthest along is esketamine, a chemical variant of ketamine that has been designated a potential breakthrough by the Food and Drug Administration. Esketamine is poised to begin Phase 3 trials, and the drug’s maker, Johnson & Johnson, plans to seek FDA approval in 2018.
Another ketamine-like drug on the horizon is rapastinel. It has completed Phase 2 studies, which showed “rapid, substantial, and sustained reductions in depressive symptoms,” according to the drug’s maker, Naurex.
“I think it’s highly probable that we’ll see some version of one of these treatments being approved in the relatively near future,” says Dr. Gerard Sanacora, director of the Yale Depression Research Program. “In my mind it is the most exciting development in mood disorder treatment in the last 50 years.”