Happier future for older drugs

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DRUGMAKERS ARE seeking to breathe new life into older antidepressants with new studies that show their drugs can treat depression just as well as the newer ones - and allow patients to enjoy a better sex life.

Glaxo Wellcome and Bristol-Myers Squibb, which ranks fourth, presented two separate studies to a conference in Paris at the weekend showing patients taking Wellbutrin and Serzone are more likely to go on having a normal sex life than those taking newer antidepressants such as Eli Lilly's Prozac, SmithKline Beecham's Paxil, Pfizer's Zoloft and Akzo Nobel's Remeron.

The studies, presented at the 11th European Congress of Neuropsychopharmacology

could help convince some of the attending 6,000 doctors to prescribe the drugs, especially if it means their patients are more likely to stick with the treatment, analysts said.

New treatments have been threatening to eclipse the older generation of medicines and cut their share of the $8.4bn worldwide market for depression drugs dramatically. Prozac and other drugs of a class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, have allowed many depressed patients to lead normal lives. Like most powerful treatments, however, they're not free of side effects.

"The problem of the SSRIs is that they cause impotence,'' Mark Becker, an analyst at JP Morgan Securities, said before the conference opened.

Drugmakers that can show their products have fewer such consequences and are at the same time effective at treating depressions could gain market share, Becker said.

One study, paid for by Glaxo, shows depressed patients taking Wellbutrin stand a better chance of keeping a normal sex life than those taking Zoloft.