Strategic Plan of the Depression Task Force

Depression is currently amongst the three leading causes of death and disability, and by 2015 is estimated to be the leading global health burden. And while heart disease and cancer are unquestionable killers, these illnesses arrive later in life. Depression most commonly strikes the young, and because many patients relapse, this chronic illness has devastating consequences on the patients’ entire lives, the lives of their families and on society in general.

Yet, our understanding of depression and our ability to treat it remain limited. While some depressed individuals respond to antidepressant drugs, over 40% are “treatment resistant” – they do not benefit from any of the currently existing treatments even after multiple attempts with different medications and various types of psychotherapy. In fact, they become worse with repeated episodes of depression. Moreover, all of today’s antidepressant medications are based on serendipitous discoveries made 60 years ago. Unfortunately, in spite of great advances in brain research, there are few new drugs in the pipeline of the pharmaceutical industry for treatment resistant depression.

The Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) has identified treatment-resistant depression as its main target. HDRF is supporting research specifically aimed at understanding the causes of treatment resistance and identifying new approaches to reverse it. The Foundation’s starting place is to address the questions: Why are some depressed people resistant to treatment? How does resistance develop and why does the course of the illness deteriorate?

To tackle this challenge, HDRF has assembled a premier group of neuroscientists and physicians who focus on the brain biology of emotions, mood and depression. They also are pioneers in the area of “neuroplasticity”—the ability of the brain to remodel itself based on experience. Some of this brain remodeling can be beneficial, for example in learning new information. But some remodeling can be damaging as the brain becomes “stuck” in negative emotions even in the absence of external triggers—as is the case with severe, recurring, treatment resistant depression. The goal of the HDRF scientists is to discover the brain changes that lead to this state of being “stuck” and target them for reversal. This includes identifying factors that make certain individuals particularly resistant to stressful life events, and boosting such natural resilience mechanisms in depressed patients.

In sum, the HDRF Strategic Plan aims to make new discoveries that identify novel drug targets for the treatment and prevention of chronic, resistant depression.