JOHNSON CITY (Dec. 11, 2017) – For his entire career, East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Greg Ordway has studied the biology of depressive disorders in humans. It has taken the better part of 30 years, but now Ordway, a professor in ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine, believes he and his colleagues may have found a new solution to treating depression.
According to Ordway, approximately 10 million people in the United States suffer with depression.
“About one to two million of those individuals don’t respond to current antidepressant drugs at all, and another three million only have a partial response,” he said. “For many years we studied biochemical pathways related to existing antidepressant drugs, but that didn’t really lead us to any data that would produce new antidepressant drugs. So, we started to study other systems that were unrelated to the mechanisms by which current antidepressants work.”
In doing that work, Ordway, along with fellow Quillen professor and researcher Dr. Russ Brown and their team, discovered an enzyme that was abnormally elevated in the brains of people who died with major depression.
“It is unique because it wasn’t in an expected pathway that is usually talked about in terms of how antidepressant drugs work to treat depression,” Ordway explained. “So, Russ and I decided to see whether, if you block that enzyme, it could have anti-depressant activity.”
To their surprise, it worked. In fact, according to Ordway, it worked just as well as some current drugs on the market that treat depression. Even better, the inhibitor they used to block the enzyme is already on the market as an FDA-approved drug used to treat patients with ovarian cancer.
“Now we just have to wait and see whether our findings in experimental models will pan out in humans, and that could happen rapidly because these drugs are already on the market and just haven’t been used for depression before,” Ordway said. “It is just a matter of a research clinician using the drug in an off-label fashion for the treatment of treatment-resistant depression.”
In the meantime, the ETSU researchers also have partnered with a drug company to work on creating a new version of the drug that is specifically designed to treat depression.
“Depression is a major risk factor for suicide and our suicide rate in this country has been going up for many years, with Appalachia having one of the highest rates in the nation,” Ordway noted. “A new drug that would boost current antidepressant drugs or work on its own to treat depression would be superb. That is what brings us to work each day – the possibility of making a difference.”
Brown couldn’t agree more.
“We can really move the needle here,” he said. “We can have an impact on a severe clinical situation and really try to get improvement for that disorder. It’s pretty amazing.”