Blocking The Melanocortin Signal for Depression: Rays of Hope

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Blocking the Melanocortin Signal Provides Rays of Hope

Blocking the melanocortin signal in the brain to treat depression is not a new concept. It has been done with extremely good results beginning in the 1970s. The science aspect of developing this approach as a treatment for depression has only met with few difficulties.

Unfortunately, the business aspect of developing early-generation melanocortin blockers as therapeutics has been more challenging. For example, delays in FDA approval led an early developer to file for bankruptcy because it only had a few years of patent protect remaining as it cleared phase II clinical trials (i.e., human testing). At that point, investors would have found it difficult to get their desired return on investment.

Akhu has taken actions to lower business-related risks, not the least of which is acquiring an exclusive, worldwide license agreement for state-of-the-art next-generation melanocortin blockers that are protected by nine patent applications. There are also risks on the science side of things. To limit that type of risk, we have chosen a therapeutic target that is superior to those of antidepressants.

Depression is a leading cause of mortality, morbidity, and disability for hundreds of millions of people worldwide and tens of millions of Americans. Although antidepressant are widely used to treat depression, they only work in half of all depressed people. For the half that benefits from using antidepressants, relief is only modest, temporary, associated with serious side effects, and requires weeks of treatment. Moreover, cessation of antidepressant treatment, in some cases even gradual tapering off of treatment, can induce a discontinuation syndrome – an array of side effects that can feel flu-like or like withdrawal from an addictive drug. For those reasons, there is an urgent need for something better.

Let’s focus on one of the most important shortcomings of antidepressants —  that they typically require six weeks to work. Compelling evidence suggests that blocking the melanocortin signal provides an excellent basis for developing alternatives to antidepressants. From the 1970s, MSH (i.e., melanocortin) release Inhibiting Factors, or MIFs, have been used to alleviate depression in humans and related behaviors in rodents. MIFs are peptides (i.e., very small proteins) that are synthesized naturally in the brain. For an example of studies characterizing the therapeutic effects of MIFs (click here). A significant finding of this study is that patients responded favorable with a few days. We are developing next-generation blockers of the melanocortin signal in our efforts to produce even better results.

Better medicine for anxiety and depression.

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