UPDATED: Lundbeck depression drug improves attention, memory in animal model

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Danish pharmaceutical group Lundbeck reported Wednesday that its investigational depression drug vortioxetine improved a number of cognitive functions in preclinical animal models.

Just last month Lundbeck unveiled positive late-stage data on vortioxetine, also known by its commercial name Brintellix. The trial compared patients on Brintellix and those taking agomelatine--which Servier sells in Europe as Valdoxan but isn't available in the U.S.--and found that patients taking Brintellix did significantly better on a system rating for depression and endpoints related to anxiety and overall functioning.

Lundbeck said the new preclinical study aimed to further examine the pharmacological profile of vortioxetine and its potential differences from currently available SSRI and SNRI antidepressants.

"Current widely used SSRIs and SNRIs are in many patients only partially effective with high rates of residual symptoms and relapse. Cognitive symptoms are key symptoms of depression and are challenging to address with currently available treatments," Lundbeck's Head of Research and Development Anders Gersel Pedersen said in a statement.

Rats treated with vortioxetine demonstrated improvement in attention, memory and executive function, all of which are associated with depressive disorder. A Lundbeck statement says the potential cognitive effects of vortioxetine in animals may be related to its activity at specific serotonin receptors, which have long been linked to depression.

Vortioxetine works differently from SSRI or SNRIs because it has a multimodal mode action that includes two complementary mechanisms of action--receptor activity modulation and reuptake inhibition. Though the therapy worked better in the preclinical study when compared to SSRIs and SNRIs, a Lundbeck spokesperson told FierceBiotechResearch in an email that there is no clinical evidence that supports a faster onset of action when compared to SSRIs/SNRIs. The multimodal action property is being investigated further in clinical trials. Researchers presented the new data at the 2013 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco this week.

Major depression has been difficult to treat, and currently available antidepressants have varied success rates because the condition varies widely from person to person. Weight gain and gastrointestinal and sexual side effects also cause patients to abandon antidepressants, and patients who experience at least one severe side effect are twice as likely to stop taking their medication.

In December 2012, Lundbeck and its partner Takeda were awarded a New Drug Application by the FDA on Brintellix. 

- here's the press release

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Editor's note: The updated version reflects an emailed statement from Lundbeck.