An Army office at Fort Detrick and a veterans program are teaming up to study drugs that could help treat combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity's Neurotrauma and Psychological Health Project Management Office has signed an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program that will help guide the studies, which could begin in about a year.
Clinical studies at locations across the U.S. will take an additional 24 to 36 months to complete, according to Maj. Gary Wynn of USAMMDA, which is based at Fort Detrick.
"We're not just looking to do a study, we're looking to do a program," Wynn said.
Wynn, a research psychiatrist who also works at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, is chairing the effort for the Department of Defense.
The goal is to identify drugs already on the market that may help in treating PTSD and seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for their specific use in treating the disorder, Wynn said. In some cases, health care providers may already be using certain drugs off-label to help, Wynn said, but they are not approved for use.
"Providers have found certain drugs help aspects of (PTSD), but nothing has been studied to the FDA level," Wynn said.
Only two drugs, paxotene, known as Paxil, and Zoloft, are approved for the treatment of PTSD, Wynn said.
The disorder's symptoms include flashbacks, loss of sleep and nightmares. Its cause is unknown, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Studies have shown that 10 to 15 percent of soldiers who deploy in a given year may develop PTSD, Wynn said.
Researchers are eyeing 10 to 20 drugs that might be helpful for treatment, Wynn said, including Seroquel, an antipsychotic, and Lunesta, which is used to treat insomnia.
"There's actually a relatively long list that we're looking at," Wynn said.
Researchers are not afraid to uncover findings that a particular drug with suspected benefits actually does not help, he said.
The Defense Department, which is funding the effort, teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs because they "essentially serve the same population," Wynn said.
The VA has greater experience with and infrastructure for research, Wynn said. The Defense Department needed guidance on how to go forward and wants the VA to be an equal partner, he said.
Officials with the VA's Cooperative Studies Program could not be reached for comment Friday.
Wynn said he did not know how much the studies would cost and that information was not available Friday.
Report: Defense, VA need to do more
The Defense Department and VA are making strides in identifying and treating people who have PTSD, but both need to do more to improve access to health care, according to the first part of a two-phase report from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine released Friday.
The report, sponsored by the Defense Department, said the agencies should do more to track patient treatment and outcomes.
The second phase of the study is expected in about a year, NAS spokeswoman Christine Stencel said.
Of the 2.6 million active-duty soldiers, reservists and National Guard members who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, an estimated 13 to 20 percent have or may develop PTSD, the report said.
The report recommended annual PTSD screening for active-duty soldiers. Veterans are annually screened now when seen at a VA facility, said Mark Ballesteros, a department spokesman.
The department will further review the IOM report, he said.
"We have already made strong progress, but we need to do more," Ballesteros said.
A total of 476,515 veterans with PTSD received treatment in VA medical centers and clinics in fiscal 2011, Ballesteros said.
In April, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced the department would add about 1,600 mental health clinicians and 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staffers.