Saturday, April 13, 2019

Surely enough money’s been made out of antidepressants

An editorial in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica asks whether the time has come to treat depression with anti-inflammatory medication. This is based on a meta-analysis which provides evidence that anti-inflammatory treatment can be beneficial. Throughout this blog (eg. see previous post), I have emphasised bias in clinical trials, so I’m not encouraging the use of anti-inflammatory medication to treat depression. Not least, the trials in the meta-analysis show a high risk of bias and tend to be done by using the anti-inflammatory drug as an add-on to antidepressant treatment, or in patients who have somatic disease, so an anti-inflammatory effect on somatic disease may be the reason for any improvement in depression scores, rather than a true antidepressant effect.

What I want to note is why anti-inflammatory medication, despite the apparent evidence for its benefit, has not managed to be included in guidelines for depression. To gain approval, a large scale trial would need to be done to show that anti-inflammatory medication offers the prospect of better treatment than current treatments, but would be very expensive. As the editorial says, only drugs with a high likelihood of generating future profit are put through such trials. The editorial goes on:-
In the case of the traditionally used, safe and tolerable anti-inflammatory agents that are already on the market, there is no financial incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to conduct these costly, large-scale RCTs. Rather, they are more likely to fund newly discovered immunotherapies with a poorly characterized safety profile, as such novel immunomodulatory treatments can be patented and monetized. 

Unlike the editorial, I am not suggesting government funding for such trials. As I indicated in my review of Ed Bullmore’s book (see previous post), it’s non-sensical to think that depression is a form of inflammation. Any apparent increase in inflammatory markers in depression is far less than inflammatory disease in general, and has non-specific causes rather than being a marker for depressive disease as such (see previous post).

The market for depression has been flooded. The pharmaceutical companies themselves seem to have realised this years ago (see previous post). If people want medication treatment, let’s at least keep it cheap. We should be suspicious of any attempt to make further money out of medication treatment for depression. Marketing and commercial, rather than scientific and therapeutic, interests have always determined which drugs are prescribed.

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