Wyeth Pharmaceuticals announced last week new clinical study data showing venlafaxine extended release (also known as Effexor) helped patients prevent new episodes of depression for up to two years. Results from the Prevention of Recurrent Episodes of Depression with Venlafaxine XR for Two Years (PREVENT) study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Toronto.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists depression as being among the most disabling clinical diagnoses in the world and estimates that it affects almost 340 million people the world over, including around 19 million men & women in the US. Much of the burden of depression is linked to its chronic nature – up to 85% of patients are likely to experience multiple recurring episodes of depression.

Martin Keller, Professor and Chairman of the Dept. of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, explains, “For the majority of people with depression, recurrence after remission occurs often. But these data showed that venlafaxine extended release can help prevent new episodes of depression, providing an option to the millions of adult patients with depression who have experienced a disappointing setback or who are still seeking symptom relief.”

The results of two consecutive 12-month trials demonstrated that patients taking venlafaxine extended release were far more likely to remain free of recurring depression that those individuals taking the placebo. In the first maintenance phase, the probability of recurrence was 23.1% among those taking venlafaxine compared to 42.0% among those given placebo. The difference was even more pronounced in the second phase, with an 8% likelihood of recurrence among those given venlafaxine extended release versus 44.8% taking placebo.

The clinical trials observed men and women over age 18 with a history of two or more episodes of major depression during the past five years, including their current episode. As well, these patients experienced at least three episodes of depression during their lifetime. Of this group, 80% had taken antidepressants during the course of their illness.

“Until about five years ago, antidepressant response was the standard for treatment; today, remission is the goal,” says Philip Ninan, Vice President of Neuroscience at Wyeth. “These data may encourage physicians to raise their expectations of treatment to include long-term prevention of new episodes of depression.”

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