Researchers Explore Personalized Pharmacotherapy to Treat Panic Attacks

More research needed to determine whether easily identified patient characteristics can help doctors choose the best drug for each patient, according to a new study in Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, April 26, 2017

Although drug therapy is the accepted first-line treatment for panic disorders (PDs), 17% to 64% of patients do not respond adequately and continue to exhibit one of the most common symptoms of PD, the panic attack (PA). In a comprehensive new analysis published in Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry, researchers carefully reviewed scientific data to establish whether a personalized treatment approach could help physicians prescribe the drug that will work most effectively for a specific patient.

“The major goal of a personalized treatment approach is to tailor interventions according to each patient’s unique profile and characteristics,” explained lead investigator Daniela Caldirola, MD, PhD, of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Hermanas Hospitalarias, Como, Italy, “Although still a challenging issue for clinicians, a personalized approach, based on reliable predictors of pharmacotherapy course, may provide relevant advances in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. PD, a common and debilitating psychiatric condition, could greatly benefit from such an approach, because from a clinical perspective there is still a strong unmet need for more efficacious pharmacological interventions in this disorder.”

Several medications are effective for treating PD, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and benzodiazepines. However, in short-term clinical trials, 17%–64% of participants with PD did not respond adequately to pharmacotherapy and continued to have PAs and/or exhibited negative behavior related to PAs.

After a careful review of more than 1,000 studies, investigators identified 22 randomized, placebo-controlled studies of three drugs, paroxetine, venlafaxine XR, and alprazolam, suitable for inclusion in this meta-analysis. The primary goals were to identify sociodemographic and clinical characteristics that clinicians can easily evaluate in clinical practice before beginning treatment, i.e., gender, age, duration of PD, presence/severity of agoraphobia, number of the PAs, severity of the disorder, and severity of general anxiety/depressive symptoms, and both clinical outcomes and tolerability of FDA-approved medications for PD.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first meta-analysis with this aim. In case of significant results, clinicians could use these variables as predictive tools to maximize therapeutic efficacy and minimize side effects of antipanic treatments according to each patient’s characteristics,” noted Dr. Caldirola.

The meta-analysis provided very limited support for the moderating effects of sociodemographic and clinical variables on short term clinical outcomes and tolerability of paroxetine, venlafaxine XR, and alprazolam in treatment of PD. However, researchers found three important correlations: (1) longer illness duration was significantly associated with lower rate of patients free from PAs at the end of trials that compared venlafaxine XR to placebo, (2) higher age at the beginning of trials that compared paroxetine to placebo was significantly associated with higher rate of patients who dropped out of the studies because of adverse side effects, and (3) the longer the treatment, the higher the rate of patients free from PAs at the endpoint of RCTs with venlafaxine XR.

Contributing to the advancement of the emerging field of personalized psychiatry in PD, the results will be useful for future studies on this topic and help to overcome the paucity of available data and shortcomings of current pharmacological studies in PD.

“Our research does underscore the fact that, in the realm of pharmacotherapy for PD, reliable conclusions regarding the usefulness of sociodemographic and clinical variables as moderators of outcomes cannot yet be drawn,” commented Dr. Caldirola. “The personalized approach to pharmacotherapy for PD, although at an early stage, appears to be the most promising way for increasing, within a reasonable timeframe, the rate of successful outcomes in this disorder, similar to trends in other fields of medicine, like oncology.”


Notes for editors
“Personalized medicine in panic disorder: Where are we now? A meta-regression analysis,” by Daniela Caldirola, MD, PhD, Massimiliano Grassi, PsyD, Alessandra Alciati, MD, Alice Riva, MSc, Erika Sangiorgio, MSc, Silvia Daccò, PsyD, and Giampaolo Perna, MD, PhD ( It is published in Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry, volume 1, issue 1 (April 2017) by Elsevier. It is openly available at

Full text of this study is also available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Damon Mastandrea at +1 215-239-3555 or Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Prof. Giampaolo Perna at or Dr. Daniela Caldirola at +39 0314291664 or

About Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry
Launched in 2017, Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry provides a home for basic and clinical investigators, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, residents, and medical and graduate students to publish high quality research papers, reviews, new ideas and perspectives, debates, case reports, applied technologies that contribute towards advancing our basic, clinical, and therapeutic knowledge of personalized medicine in psychiatry. The journal is guided by two globally recognized leaders in the field: Charles Nemeroff, MD, PhD, Chair of Psychiatry, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA, and Giampaolo Perna, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Villa San Benedetto - Hermanas Hospitalarias, Como Lake, Italy.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contact
Damon Mastandrea
+1 215-239-3555