Some of the 18 patients taking ezogabine (Potiga) experienced a 45 percent reduction in depression and an increase in their ability to feel pleasure, as well as an increase in resilience and the capacity to recover from extremes of trauma and stress, the researchers reported.
“This drug might be relevant for patients who don’t do well with conventional antidepressants,” said lead researcher Dr. James Murrough. He is director of the mood and anxiety disorders program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.
Ezogabine was approved in 2011 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an anti-seizure medication. Shortly after its approval, concerns were raised about the drug’s effect on the retina and the possibility of it causing blindness.
The FDA ordered the drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to do further safety studies. After reviewing those studies, the FDA ruled in 2015 that the drug did not appear to affect vision. Still, the company withdrew ezogabine from the U.S. market in 2017, citing poor sales.
Even so, psychiatrists noted that if the drug proves effective against depression in larger studies, other drugs that target this area of the brain could be developed.
Some 15 million Americans suffer from major depressive disorder, which is a leading cause of disability. Treatments include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such a Prozac and Paxil, but they are not effective across the board, the researchers noted.
It may be that depression is not one disease, but several that affect different areas of the brain, Murrough said.