$7m key to defeating depression


GROUNDBREAKING individual genetic tests will help determine the best antidepressants for patients who now are at the mercy of trial and error.

The Federal Government will today announce a $7 million research plan to develop new tests that take away the risk and delays caused by not getting dosages and medications right.

Health Minister Greg Hunt - who has made tackling mental illness and suicide one of his top priorities - will unveil the investment at a time when more Australians turn to doctors for help for depression, anxiety and mental illness.

About three million Australians take antidepressants. Of those on the disability support pension, the majority are battling a psychological illness.

Currently, some patients are not getting the dosage or drug needed for their particular genetic make-up.

It means some patients try a variety of drugs before they find the one that works for them. It

can take a long time, leaving them without effective treatment.


Health Minister Greg Hunt
Health Minister Greg Hunt

Mr Hunt said the Medical Research Futures Fund investment aimed to develop new pharmacogenomic tests.

"Although psychological strategies are the first-line of treatment, antidepressants and other drugs form an important part of the care provided,'' Mr Hunt said.

"But only about half of patients have a positive response from their first medication prescription, and the response diminishes with subsequent alternatives."

He said it was estimated that genetics was responsible for 42 per cent of varied response to antidepressants.

"Current approaches of trialling different medications may result in prolonged episodes of depression, which impacts on quality of life, increases the risk of suicide.

"Testing of these genes may help identify the best and most effective treatment for an individual patient."

He said the research aimed to better the current approaches.

The fund seeks to change that.


"By enabling more accurate, personalised medication selection, these tests will pave the way to better recovery from conditions such as severe depression and anxiety."

The Government has said it is committed to reducing the number of lives lost to suicide, and is working towards zero suicides.

Mr Hunt has been personally touched by mental illness, with his late mother diagnosed with mental illness and Scott Morrison rocked by youth suicide.

Mr Morrison told The Courier-Mail this year he was a young teen when his police officer father John told him a son of family friends had committed suicide.

Mr Morrison said he was about 12 or 13 years old when the 20-year-old, who he chose not to name, died. He said he remembered exactly where he was sitting and the feeling that stirred in his core.

"I remember failing to understand. I had a very happy life as a kid. (What does it take) to get to that point?" he said.

"My brother worked as a youth worker for a while and he told me stories of just young men … saying goodbye to their parents in the morning in the same way they always did and go off and take their lives.

"I just describe it (youth suicide) as a curse. I describe it that way because curses have to be broken and that's what I'm going to try to do with this."

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