Antidepressant Roboxetine Giving Real Scientists the Blues

Josh Clark

One of the most vitally important parts of any prescription drug regimen for treating depression is that the prescription drug actually work. Becasue of this maxim, clinically depressed patients who are taking the drug reboxetine are going to have trouble getting to well.

The British Medical Journal is known for its staid, no-nonsense academic approach to scientific publishing. But in light of the egregiousness of the lack of transparency that Pfizer, the manufacturer of the antidepressant roboxetine, has displayed toward its drug, the BMJ made an exception and published a little detective work. What they found was a string of serious infractions by Pfizer that would depress anyone.

Roboxetine acts as a noradrenalin reuptake inhibitor; this is fairly unique in the world of antidepressants, since most target serotonin, which is assumed to regulate mood. Noradrenalin is a stimulating neurotransmitter and by blocking its readmission back to the axon that released it, the chemical remains in the synapse between two neurons longer, increasing its chances of contacting a receptor and transfering its magical power.

No one was necessarily contesting the science behind roboxetine, chiefly because no one knew all of the science. As the people at Good Bad and Bogus tell it, at some point it came to some Germans researchers' attention that there was something fishy going on, so they followed standard scientific protocol and asked Pfizer to see their research on the drug. Pfizer says no. It turns out, the doggedly persistent researchers managed to determine, because the company had grossly exaggerated its conclusions about the drug's effectiveness by about 115 percent, the researchers reckon.

The Germans arrived at this number after they compared the published data that the company promoted and unpublished data that they company surpressed. As I've written before, one important aspect of science is sharing findings, positive and negative. When billions in potential revenue is introduced into this equation, however, publishing data on a drug that you're good and ready to make some money off of can lead corporations astray from the true spirit of science. It would seem.

In addition, the Germans found that Pfizer not only supressed findings that showed the drug wasn't much better than placebo, they also found that Pfizer had buried evidence that the drug is more harmful than other drugs used to treat depression. Ineffective and dangerous is a bad combination for an antidepressant. Hopefully the BMJ article will set things right.