Study: Eli Lilly's Cymbalta sputters out for nearly 16% of depression patients

About 16% of patients on Eli Lilly's ($LLY) antidepressant drug Cymbalta either didn't improve or became worse on the treatment, according to a new study.

On the surface, the news is a potential black mark for Cymbalta at an inopportune time. The blockbuster drug generated more than $1 billion in revenue during its fiscal 2011 third quarter alone, up nearly 30% versus the same period last year. But the drug is also one of several manufactured by Lilly that has, or is going to, go off patent, with generic manufacturers such as Lupin rapidly seeking to join the U.S. market with cheaper generic alternatives to Cymbalta.

Place the results in a different context, however, and they are actually pretty interesting, because the data could be used as a first step toward a more personalized medicine approach for prescribing the drug. Researchers' findings in the broad data assessment, published in Archives of General Psychiatry, come as scientists are increasingly trying to determine genetics or other patient characteristics that could help better determine as soon as possible which drugs will work, and which ones won't, Reuters notes. (By the way, Reuters points out that an Eli Lilly employee and a member of the company's scientific advisory board took part in the study.)

Put a different way, patients benefit the sooner you know if a treatment will actually work. The more a drug builds in the marketplace, the more effective it is perceived to be.

Scientists in the study, led by Ralitza Gueorguieva at the Yale University School of Health, evaluated combined data from 7 studies in which 2,500 patients with major depression were randomly assigned to Cymbalta, another antidepressant or a placebo for two months. The placebo patients reported small and gradual improvements, Cymbalta folks generally got better dramatically but "a sizable chunk" didn't improve, Reuters said.

Cymbalta is approved to treat depression, anxiety and neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain relating to osteoarthritis.

- here's the Reuters story
- read news about a generic Cymbalta competitor

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