From the Journals

Add-on aripiprazole shows modest improvement over bupropion in depression

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High rate of PTSD in the study population could favor aripiprazole

“The modest advantage of aripiprazole augmentation over the two other treatment options in the VAST-D study suggests that this approach should be considered earlier by clinicians for patients with MDD who have an inadequate response to antidepressant therapies,” Maurizio Fava, MD, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study published by JAMA.

He also pointed out that the demographic makeup of the patients study was largely male, which is significantly different “from the usual study population in large trials of MDD, in which women typically far exceed the proportion of male study participants, as was the case with STAR*D.”

Dr. Fava cited the differences in the proportion of patients with posttraumatic stress disorder in the VAST-D and STAR*D study. In VAST-D, 44%-48% had PTSD, compared with a rate of 17% in the STAR*D cohort. “Did such enrichment potentially favor one of the treatment options of VAST-D? Although a placebo-controlled study of bupropion in chronic PTSD showed no benefit of this therapy, a meta-analysis of eight randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of atypical antipsychotics for the treatment of PTSD found that these agents may be superior to placebo,” Dr. Fava wrote.

Finally, he cited the differences in mean age of onset of MDD in the two studies. In the VAST-D study, the mean age of onset ranged from 36 to 38 years and compared with a mean age of onset of 25 in STAR*D. “The older age of onset of MDD in the VAST-D study suggests that, in many cases, the MDD may have been secondary to other psychiatric conditions, such as PTSD. Therefore, there might be some significant neurobiological differences between the two populations,” Dr. Fava wrote (JAMA. 2017;318[2]:126-8).

Dr. Fava is affiliated with the division of clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. He reported financial relationships with numerous pharmaceutical companies.



In men with major depressive disorder (MMD) who were not responding well to an antidepressant treatment, adding aripiprazole resulted in a modest increase in the likelihood of remission, compared with switching to bupropion monotherapy, according to results from a new randomized study.

The findings, published online July 11 in JAMA, come from a randomized, single-blinded trial enrolling more than 1,500 Veterans Health Administration patients (85% men; mean age, 54) with persistent MDD symptoms despite a trial of at least 1 antidepressant drug (JAMA. 2017;318[2]:132-45.).

The VA Augmentation and Switching Treatments for Improving Depression Outcomes (VAST-D) study, led by Somaia Mohamed, MD, PhD, of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, Conn., and carried out at 35 Veterans Health Administration treatment centers, was designed to help answer some of the lingering questions about augmentation strategies that the landmark, federally funded Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) trial, from 2006, could not answer.

While the STAR*D investigators found bupropion to be an effective switching and augmentation agent in people who had failed citalopram monotherapy, the study was not powered to compare results for switching and augmentation. Nor did STAR*D include augmentation with atypical antipsychotics such as aripiprazole, a treatment strategy that was not yet in wide use.

The VAST-D study also differed from most depression trials in that most of the patients were men. The main outcome was clinical remission within 12 weeks of initiating one of the three treatment strategies. Subjects were randomized to augmentation of current treatment with aripiprazole 2-15 mg (n = 505) or bupropion 150-400 mg (n = 506) or were switched from current treatment to bupropion monotherapy (n = 511).

Remission rates during the first 12 weeks were 22% for patients switched from their current drug to bupropion, 27% for those who augmented treatment with bupropion, and 29% for those who augmented treatment with aripiprazole, though the difference in remission reached statistical significance only for the adjunctive aripiprazole group vs. the bupropion monotherapy group (relative risk, 1.30; 95% confidence interval, 1.05-1.60; P = .02).

Clinical response, as measured using two validated scoring systems, was higher (74%) in the aripiprazole group at 12 weeks, compared with the bupropion only (62%) or bupropion augmentation (66%) groups, a difference that reached statistical significance. Anxiety was more commonly reported among patients in the bupropion groups, while somnolence, akathisia, and weight gain were more frequently reported among patients treated with aripiprazole.

Though aripiprazole augmentation was seen associated with a higher rate of remission and greater response, Dr. Mohamed and her colleagues cautioned that, “given the small effect size and adverse effects” associated with the atypical antipsychotic drug, “further analysis, including cost-effectiveness, is needed to understand the net utility of this approach.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored the study. Bristol-Myers Squibb provided aripiprazole to investigators. Of the study’s 16 listed coauthors, 5 reported financial relationships with Bristol-Myers Squibb or other manufacturers.

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