Could an arthritis drug help fight against depression?

21 October 2019
Researchers in Cambridge are investigating whether a drug commonly used to treat arthritis could help some of the millions of people who suffer from depression.

The Insight Study, a clinical trial, will examine whether the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab could help reduce some of the symptoms of depression.Dr Golam Khandaker

Research suggests that low grade inflammation – or over-activity of one aspect of the immune system – may play a role in the development and persistence of depression.

The study will test the effects of a single dose of tocilizumab on mood, attention and memory, and give doctors greater insight into whether or not inflammation is actually a cause of depression.

The study is being run at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is organised by the University of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, with support from the Wellcome Trust and the BMA Foundation. 

Leading the investigation is honorary consultant psychiatrist, Dr Golam Khandaker, and fellow members of Cambridge-based Inflammation and Psychiatry Research Group, Dr Joel Parkinson and research assistants, Bianca Oltean and Éimear Foley.Dr Joel Parkinson

The group investigates links between the immune system and neuropsychiatric brain disorders, particularly depression and schizophrenia, which affect about one in four people. The aim is to identify novel treatments, particularly as about a third of patients affected do not respond to those currently available.

The Insight trial is looking to recruit 30 volunteers from Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Fenland, Norfolk and Suffolk. Researchers are looking for individuals with depression who are taking an antidepressant medication, aged 20 to 65. They must have had no infection or antibiotic treatment in the last four weeks at the time of taking part, and have no current or previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder and personality disorder.

Participants will receive an intravenous infusion of either tocilizumab or a dummy drug over an hour, have their pulse and blood pressure checked, and answer Bianca Olteanquestions on how they feel. Follow-up research visits will take place at week one, two and four after infusion. Participants will be required to provide blood samples as part of eligibility assessment and subsequent research visits.

Eimear FoleyDr Khandaker said: “Depression causes suffering to millions of people and a considerable proportion of them do not get better, so we need new treatments.”

“This study will give us more insights into whether inflammation plays a role in causing depression and whether anti-inflammatory drugs may be used for treating some patients in future.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the Insight trial should contact the study team by emailing at insight.study@nhs.net or by telephoning 01223 768 510.