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Duke start-up aims to improve antidepressant drug therapy

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: September 8th, 2021

A Duke University start-up has developed a new delivery system for a serotonin-boosting compound that could be used in combination with existing antidepressants to improve overall their overall effectiveness.

Evecxia Therapeutics is developing a way to deliver the compound 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to patients as a supplement to their current antidepressants. When 5-HTP enters the body, it is converted into serotonin, a chemical in the brain that can positively affect mood.

Evecxia’s main candidate drug, EVX-101, “can synergize with the antidepressant already taken to increase serotonin function,” says Jacob Jacobsen, researcher at Duke and co-founder of Evecxia. 

The problem, however, is until now 5-HTP has been absorbed by the body too quickly, meaning it would require patients to take handfuls of pills daily, something that is not practical and can lead to side effects like nausea.

So Jacobsen and his colleagues have been working for years to create a slow-release version of its 5-HTP pill that not only decelerates the body’s absorption of the drug but also makes it more targeted. At the moment, it’s designed to be taken as a pill once in the morning and once in the evening.

Jacobsen says Evecxia has gotten attention from investors recently because of the lack of options for people suffering from depression. The start-up recently raised $8.6 million to get EVX-101 through clinical trials.

Source: Duke Translation & Commercialization

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