Antidepressant drug may bring big bucks to USF

A new antidepressant drug developed by USF researchers could be a potential big hit for the University in the pharmaceutical field.

The drug, labeled TC-5214 by its inventors, is effective in treating depression, especially in patients who haven’t responded to available drugs, according to a release.

Karen Holbrook, USF’s vice president for Research and Innovation, said the drug has attracted a joint deal from pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Targacept. 

USF, which holds the patents for TC-5214, has licensed Targacept, a biopharmaceutical company, to develop the drug for AstraZeneca, a drug manufacturer.

If TC-5214 goes on sale, the University would be entitled to sales royalties in an antidepressants market that generated more than $20 billion in 2009, Holbrook said. AstraZeneca has made an initial payment of $200 million to Targacept.

“Additional payments after the initial payment will be made when certain development milestones are met,” Holbrook said.

An agreement on how much USF would receive from these additional payments is “still in the negotiation phase,” Holbrook said. But the total could amount to more than $1 billion.

Of the money USF will receive, Holbrook said that 45 percent will be split between TC-5214’s four inventors and 10 percent will go to their specific research programs. The other 45 percent of the money will go to USF’s research foundation.

“It’s very likely the drug will make it to the market,” said Valerie McDevitt, USF’s assistant vice president for research. “There are no guarantees, but it looks very good.”

TC-5214 has been in development since the mid-1990s. It was invented by USF researchers Paul Sanberg, Douglas Shytle, Archie Silver and former student Mary Newman. It was discovered by chance, Sanberg said.

“We were looking at ways to help kids with Tourette’s syndrome,” he said. “We were specifically looking at drugs that blocked nicotine receptors in the brain.”

He noticed that one tested drug seemed to help kids with Tourette’s who also suffered from depression. And that drug, which was originally used to treat hypertension, was developed into TC-5214.

“It demonstrates that the University can make significant discoveries,” Sanberg said.

McDevitt said that aside from monetary benefits, it will bring more attention to the University, and “it has the potential to benefit a lot of people.”

“This is an external validation of the work of these scientists,” McDevitt said. “It shows USF is doing world-class research.”