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Surprising Science

Why Prozac Is Still a Mystery

A recently-tested anti-depressed, which looked very good on paper, has failed to reduce depression rates. Our understanding of the brain still doesn’t suffice to make good drugs.

What’s the Latest Development?

The pharmaceutical industry’s newest attempt to fight depression, a drug from Glaxo named GSK372475, has failed to outperform a placebo. GSK372475 was intended to block the breakdown of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, three brain chemicals associated with happiness and depression. The drug’s failure is an example of how difficult it is to change the brain in predictable ways which benefit our health. Major pharmaceutical companies, frustrated by failure, are cutting their neuroscience research budgets.

What’s the Big Idea?

It is difficult to overstate how much our scientific understanding of the brain has progressed in the last decade. Still, limits have frustrated our best attempts to develop drugs to improve the quality of our mental life. In fact, we do not even understand how drugs like Prozac work. Clinical trials have shown it outperforms a placebo in reducing rates of depression but, in a sense, we stumbled onto the solution. We got lucky. Despite our fervor for neuroscience and medical solutions, we may have to admit that we are still fumbling in the dark.


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