Remission from Depression: A Review of Venlafaxine Clinical and Economic Evidence
Edward C.Y. Wang
Worldwide, major depression is the leading cause of years lived with a disability, and the fourth cause of disability-adjusted life years. Depression is second only to hypertension as the most common chronic condition encountered in general medical practice. Unfortunately, despite the high prevalence of depression, under-recognition and under-treatment are common. Historically, clinicians have assessed the short-term effectiveness of antidepressants by response rates, often defined as a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms. However, this usually does not reflect true clinical remission, and residual symptoms are common. Persistence of residual symptoms appears to be a common link to relapse, chronic disability and suicide. The burden of not treating depression effectively to remission is significant, as the disease is an important contributor to the disability levels of the general population. Disability, in turn, has a profound impact on lost productivity and medical expenses. In 2000, depression cost the US more than $US83 billion annually in lost productivity, medical expenses and premature death. Venlafaxine, a dual-acting serotonin norepinephrine (noradrenaline) reuptake inhibitor, may improve a patient's response to treatment and their chances of achieving complete remission compared with conventional antidepressant therapies, with the evidence for this being the strongest for comparisons with the selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs). To date, there are only a small number of economic studies of venlafaxine, and most are cost or resource utilisation analyses with significant limitations. Nevertheless, two cost-effectiveness analyses of venlafaxine are available. They found venlafaxine had a lower average cost per patient achieving remission or per symptom-free day compared with SSRIs; one reported an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for venlafaxine of $US586 (year 2002 values) per additional patient achieving remission over 8 weeks, and the other found venlafaxine to be a dominant treatment choice over SSRIs over 6 months (year 2001 values). Although requiring further confirmation, these initial data suggest that venlafaxine is a cost-effective strategy for the treatment of depression. The availability of an effective armamentarium of antidepressant strategies, including venlafaxine, to achieve and sustain remission offers both clinical and economic value to all those touched by the burden of depression.
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