FDA could approve ketamine nasal spray as depression treatment

Ketamine spray could be approved for depression

New York — The FDA may be on the verge of approving the first new treatment for depression in decades. One out of every six adults will have depression at some point in their life, and it affects about 16 million Americans every year.

Michael Wurst, 37, is a newlywed with a new home and a life far different than it was just a few years ago.

"You don't feel anything positive. It was a struggle, an absolute struggle," Wurst said.

Anti-depressants didn't help enough. Then in a 2017 clinical trial, Wurst was given six weekly infusions of ketamine, a rapid acting anesthetic that's been used illegally as a party drug known as "Special K." By the fourth treatment he was a changed man.

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Michael Wurst CBS News

"It was like this weight in my head was lifted it just disappeared or dissipated, and I got to experience life again," he said.

The drug esketamine, is a nasal spray form of ketamine. It can only be used in a doctor's office for treatment resistant depression. That's when at least two medications fail to work, and about 30 percent of people with depression are treatment resistant.

"Whereas most available antidepressants take weeks to months, we found in our first study of ketamine the patients started feeling better within a few hours," said Dr. Dennis Charney, with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai.

He has spent two decades studying ketamine. His patent was licensed to the makers of esketamine and he will share in its profits.

"The available drugs have been available since 1960. There hasn't been a novel mechanism for the treatment of depression until ketamine," Charney said.

"No matter how much I built myself up to have a future before, I still felt like it was robbed from me where now I actually have a future and I can look forward to it," Wurst said.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook