07/18/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Life After Prozac: New Fronts in the Fight Against Depression

The year 1988 saw the U.S. release of the antidepressant Prozac. Within two years, the compound became not only the most prescribed drug in the world but an emblem -- a focal point that changed the conversation about depression and its prevalence.

Just over a quarter-century later, despite enlightened attitudes and advances in treatment, depression remains a widespread and burdensome affliction. According to the World Health Organization, some 350 million people globally suffer from depression, and fewer than half of those affected -- and, in some countries, fewer than 10 percent -- actually receive treatment.

Meanwhile, research presses on. In looking at the depression landscape a year after Prozac's 25th anniversary, Thomson Reuters has harnessed resources from its various businesses to highlight past milestones, current activities, and future prospects in the fight against depression.

The infographic 25 Years After Prozac provides a timeline, beginning with Prozac, of major advancements in the treatment of depression. The display, drawing on data from Derwent World Patents Index and the report Spotlight on Depression from Thomson Reuters Cortellis for Competitive Intelligence, presents a chronology of major pharmaceutical agents and their years of introduction, along with a selection of corresponding data on the original patent applications.

Although patent expirations and generic competition have reduced the market for branded antidepressants from its $15-billion peak in 2003, pharmaceutical companies continue to pursue new opportunities. The infographic reflects this, featuring a trio of new antidepressant drugs now in the development pipeline. Compared to established compounds such as the SSRIs Paxil and Effexor, these new agents function via different mechanisms. RG-7090, for example, currently in Phase II trials, modulates the glutamatergic receptor designated mGlu5, thereby affecting neurotransmission involved in depression. Another compound, ALKS-5461, modulates opioid receptors in producing an antidepressant effect, although, unlike other opiates, it does not cause addiction. This drug is currently in phase III trials.

The infographic also suggests that in pharmaceutical research on depression, as in so many other spheres, the international landscape is changing: U.S. patenting activity is down, while that of China has substantially increased.

In addition to the infographic, an additional element in this Thomson Reuters snapshot of depression research, Battling Depression: Research Highlights, appears in the Web resource ScienceWatch. Drawing on Thomson Reuters Web of Science and its coverage of more than 12,000 scientific and scholarly journals, ScienceWatch broadly surveys the literature on depression over the last decade and identifies the most-cited papers, along with the field's most prolific authors and institutions.