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$12 billion annually in the U.S.—but there’s also no shortage of side effects. Popular antidepressants such as fluoxetine hydrochloride, marketed as Prozac and other trade names, can cause sexual dysfunction. Others are linked to weight gain, and some just plain don’t work on some patients. Such drawbacks make Rote feel optimistic about the prospects for Psylin’s antidepressant, which he and other executives call “41” for short.
In lab tests, the drug has provided hints that it treats depression as well as anxiety. Other clues give the team at Psylin hope that there are other perks of the drug, including weight loss, cognitive improvement, and a lack of sexual side effects. Of course, it’s extremely early in the game to be promising anything about this drug. Exactly how the drug works at the molecular level is unknown, Rote says, and history has proven that drugs that work in lab mice and rats often don’t provide the same benefits to humans.
Another hurdle is there are only hints (and no way of knowing for sure) whether a mouse or rat is depressed, Rote says. Yet PsychoGenics appears to be one of the best in the business at testing the effects of psychiatric drugs in lab rodents. Rote explains that the company has recorded behavioral trends among mice and rats treated with all psychiatric drugs known to be effective. The effects of experimental drugs are compared with the effects of proven drugs, and a computer system programmed to recognize behavioral trends provides feedback on whether an experimental drug could work. How can one tell whether a mouse is depressed? One popular way, known as the forced swimming test, involves dropping a mouse into a container of water and watching how long it struggles to stay afloat. Depressed mice tend to give up quicker than their cheery counterparts. Again, this isn’t perfect science.
Amylin, of course, brings knowledge of peptides to the Psylin venture. The firm’s peptide hormones are synthesized chains of amino acids. Rote says data from the PsychoGenics animal tests help Amylin scientists tweak the form of the peptides to optimize their effects.
Psylin has no offices or employees of its own, but rather exists virtually in the labs and offices of its corporate parents. This organizational scheme is cheaper than launching a company with separate offices and executives, Rote says. Also, the chief executive responsibilities are shared by Mark Gergen, senior VP of corporate development at Amylin, and PsychoGenic’s CEO, Emer Leahy, are co-CEOs of Psylin.
“Psylin’s been the first company that we have formed through this [joint venture] process and to date has been very successful,” Rote says. “It’s been a productive collaboration and we’ve moved very quickly.”
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