1st Marketed: 1987
Company: Eli Lilly Co.
Prozac (fluoxetine hydrochloride) hit the culture in 1987. It rapidly became the most widely prescribed anti-depressant medication in history. Prescribed for the symptomatic relief of depressive illness, in 1994 Prozac was the second best selling drug of any kind in the world. An estimated one billion
prescriptions per month were being filled for the drug.
Researchers are still studying Prozac in the attempt to unlock the secrets of its actions. Worms are bathed in the drug. It turns out that when exposed to Prozac the nematode Caenorhabitis elegans will lay eggs and its olfactory muscles will contract. By creating several mutated strains of c. elegans, scientists have demonstrated that the worm's nose muscle spasms occur independently of the drug's inhibition of the serotonin reuptake. This suggests that Prozac may have other biological targets in worms and therefore humans.
Prozac was the first of a new class of drugs called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" (SSRIs). SSRIs are presumed to be linked to their ability to inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, a chemical found in the sea that surrounds and engulfs brain matter.
"Prozac ultimately improves one's self-concept"
The unique but not completely understood action of Prozac includes its ability to increase serotonin levels, by inhibiting serotonin's reuptake. Effects of this increase in serotonin include mood enhancement, increased energy, assertiveness, even optimism. Prozac and its brethren Zoloft and Paxil are used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, social discomfort, and rejection-sensitivity. The SSRIs can also be used to control obsessive thoughts. Inhibiting the reuptake of this strange substance called serotonin appears to cure severe depression and mild dysphoria. No surprise then that Prozac became a blockbuster drug making considerable profits.
But how does such a miracle drug, custom designed to improve one's quality of life and "self-concept", actually work? Nobody is certain.
It's not that the drugs don't help some people-- I think they do-- but I don't think we know why.
-- Elliot Valenstein, U. of Michigan
The global anti-depressant (or positive self-concept) drug market is worth an estimated eleven billion dollars ($11 billion). Prozac and the other SSRIs are
now being challenged by other chemical compounds including the norepinephrine inhibitors, Substance P and CRF receptor antagonists. The "quality of life" market is rich in potential profits. The drug companies are doing a considerable amount of mining.
In the May 13, 2002 issue of The Scientist
an article reported that there are eight (8) drugs in clinical trials to treat erectile dysfunction, seven (7) for obesity, and four (4) for sleep disorders. On the other hand, only one (1) drug is in the pipeline to treat "sleeping sickness" and only one (1) drug is being developed to treat malaria. The reason for this has to do with the geographical location of the various sufferers of these diseases. Men who cannot get hard-ons are likely to have more money in their wallets than a child, born by fate, somewhere south of the equator.