The History of the Antidepressant Prozac

Prozac -- The Making of a Miracle Cure?

Maksim/Creative Commons

I ran across something interesting as I was researching the history behind Prozac, something I’ve not encountered with any other invention. The overall sentiment expressed by several independent sources went something like, “I want to kiss the person who invented this!” 

We might depend on the lightbulb more, but we never hear anyone talk about kissing Edison. Maybe the reason for the fondness for Prozac lies behind the nature of this invention.

What Exactly Is Prozac?

Prozac is the registered trademarked name for fluoxetine hydrochloride, the world's most widely prescribed antidepressant. It was the first product in a major class of drugs for depression called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Prozac was first introduced to the U.S. market in January 1988, and gained its "most prescribed" status within two years.

How Does It Work? 

Prozac works by increasing brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is thought to influence sleep, appetite, aggression and mood. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages between nerve cells. They’re secreted by one cell and picked up by receptor proteins on the surface of another. A neurotransmitter is either destroyed or retrieved into the cell that made it after the message has been delivered. This process is known as reuptake. 

The effect of serotonin is amplified when reuptake is inhibited.

Although it's not entirely known why increasing neurotransmitter levels reduces the severity of a depression, it may be that increased levels of serotonin cause changes in the brain's concentration of neurotransmitter-binding receptors. This might make the brain physically more capable of feeling good.

The Invention of Prozac

Ray Fuller led the team of inventors behind Prozac. It was Fuller who was posthumously awarded the Pharmaceutical Discoverer's Award from Narsad for discovering fluoxetine or Prozac. Also credited were Bryan Molloy and David Wong, both members of the Eli Lilly Company research team, the company that created and distributed the drug.

Although many patients and medical personnel feel positively about Prozac, some lawsuits and studies make a case for caution. Prozac's known side effects include nausea, diarrhea, insomnia and a lowered sex drive. 

Other Eli Lilly Company Innovations

  • Founder Colonel Eli Lilly was the inventor of the gelatin capsule. 
  • The company introduced Iletin®, the first insulin product, in the 1920s. Developed by the research team of Frederick Banting and Charles Best of the University of Toronto, the new therapy revolutionized the treatment of diabetes.
  • Eli Lilly developed long-acting, orally administered penicillin products in the 1950s. The company also discovered erythromycin or Ilosone®. The drugs were the first of the macrolides, a major class of antibiotics.
  • The company developed and mass-produced the Salk polio vaccine for its first widespread clinical trials.
  • In the 1960s, Eli Lilly developed the first agents of the cephalosporins, a major class of antibiotics. The company later introduced Ceclor®, a member of the cephalosporin family that became the world’s top-selling antibiotic.
  • The Eli Lilly Company introduced Humulin® or human insulin in the 1980s. It was the world’s first human health care product created using recombinant DNA technology. This was also the decade in which the company launched Prozac®.  
  • The company introduced the cardiovascular antiplatelet agent ReoPro® in the 1990s. This decade also saw the arrival of Gemzar®, an oncology product, Humalog®, an insulin analog for diabetes, and ZyprexaTM®, a new antipsychotic agent for the treatment of schizophrenia.

The product names appearing in this article are U.S. trademarks. Names may be different in other countries.