Gene based depression treatment gains momentum

The number of Western Australians living with depression that does not respond to medications could halve if a new WA study confirms that gene-based treatment for depression is more effective than current methods.

A clinical trial, to be conducted by The University of Western Australia’s Young Lives Matter Foundation and Meeting for Minds, was confirmed this month thanks to funding provided by health insurer HBF.

Using pharmacogenomics (PG) (the study of how a person’s genetic make-up influences how they metabolise medication), the trial will analyse whether PG-guided treatment is more effective than today’s widely adopted ‘trial and error’ approach.

Professor Sean Hood, Head of UWA Medical School’s Psychiatry Division and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s Mental Health Unit, said evidence from similar international trials of PG-guided treatment for depression was highly promising.

We’re seeing people receive the right medication, at the right dosage, at the right intervention time based on their genetic profile,”

Professor Sean Hood

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He said that under the current ‘one-drug-fits-all’ approach, up to half of all newly diagnosed patients did not respond adequately to their prescribed anti-depressant.

“It’s a process of trial and error. Many patients spend years switching from one medication to the next in search of something that works,” he said.

“The sad truth is that many people with treatment-resistant depression commit suicide before they are prescribed the right medication for them. This trial has the potential to change that – it could be life-saving.”

With one in seven Australians experiencing depression in their lifetime, HBF Chief Executive Officer John Van Der Wielen said there was a clear community need for improved mental healthcare.

“PG has already guided treatment of other diseases, including cancer. This trial could be the catalyst our health system needs for the widespread adoption of precise, personalised treatment of depression,” he said.

“It would give Australians living with this illness a much greater chance of managing their condition, early, and improving their quality of life.”

Approximately 80 patients in WA will be recruited for the trial in mid-2021. The trial will be mirrored in New South Wales, with both data sets combined and analysed in 2022. Results of the trials are intended to shape future decisions about the public funding of depression and other mental illness treatments.

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