SCIENTISTS ARE investigating new drug treatments for depression which could topple Prozac from its number one position as the world's best known mood lifter.

SCIENTISTS ARE investigating new drug treatments for depression which could topple Prozac from its number one position as the world's best known mood lifter.

Research trials are underway with a new class of drugs which act on the brain in a radically different way from existing anti-depressants. If their early promise is confirmed, they could transform the outlook for sufferers for whom existing treatments do not work or produce unacceptable side-effects.

Depression is the leading cause of ill health in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in five adults will suffer the effects or the consequences of depression at some time in their life and that this will rise to almost one in three by 2010, with an estimated 18 million sufferers in Britain.

A conference in London, organised by the Sir Robert Mond Memorial Trust in association with the WHO and Harvard Medical School, will be given details of the latest research. Tony Blair is to attend a reception to launch the event at the British Museum on 27 October.

David Nutt, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol and a trustee of the Robert Mond Trust, said existing drugs, such as Prozac, were too slow to act, taking two to four weeks, and that 15 per cent of people did not respond. Side-effects included sexual dysfunction and there was no preventive treatment against recurrence of the condition.

"The target is to get more people better with a single treatment, to do it faster and to develop a good preventive drug," he said. The best prospect lies with the substance-P antagonists. Two trials, by the drug companies Novartis and Merck, Sharp and Dohme, are under way and early results suggest the new drugs are as effective as the existing ones but are free of sexual and other side-effects.

'Depression - the social and economic time bomb' will be held at the Royal Society of Medicine from 28-29 October .

For information contact the Sir Robert Mond Memorial Trust, 0171 881 9998 or e-mail rgh@rmmt.org.

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