Together With the COVID-19 Pandemic, the World is also Facing a Stress Pandemic

Assist. Prof. Marin Jukić, PharmD, from the Faculty of Pharmacy Belgrade, dedicates his time to studying thoughts and emotions, and their influence on the human decision-making. The findings of his past studies of pharmacological treatment of depression and schizophrenia were by the International Medis Awards expert panel for two consecutive years reviewed as the best research achievements in the field of pharmacy in the Central and South-Eastern Europe. With Dr Jukić we discussed the current situation, the pandemic, and its influence on mental disorders, as well as his new research work.

Assist. Prof. Jukić, PharmD, points out that together with the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is also facing a stress pandemic, this is why he expects increase of the already widespread incidence of depressive and anxiety disorders in the developed world. When and whether the vaccine for the new coronavirus will be developed, and when and whether new therapies for efficient management of COVID-19 will be found, is unclear. However, Dr Jukić is certain that the consequences of emotional scars caused by the current pandemic will be long-lasting:

“Already without COVID-19 we are living in a period of extremely great stress, and this only triggers additional fear which hangs above our heads. I would therefore say that we are facing a stress pandemic, and I assess with a fair amount of certainty that for the anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as traumatic shocks which follow this situation, a vaccine will never be found. People are nervous and scared, and an insight into the fulness of the magnitude of the consequences of the pandemic will only be possible in retrospect.”


The Uncertain New Reality

The new reality, marked with uncertainty, represents a great challenge for researchers in pharmacy who are looking for the best pharmacological answers for treating psychiatric diseases and mental disorders. The pharmacological field in psychiatry is quite narrow, emphasizes Dr Jukić.

“As a rule, doctors in psychiatry only have 15 medicines available and that is it. The goal of us pharmacists is therefore to enable every patient according to their individual characteristics an optimum dose of the medicine at the right time. The essence of my research in the previous years, for which I have also received two International Medis Awards, was a kind of a quantification of personal characteristics of an individual patient, so that we could provide the doctors with useful information, on the basis of which they would be able to assess the needed dose of the medicine for every patient more easily. The goal of my current research project, which was co-funded by the Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia, is an algorithm which will on the basis of height, weight, biochemical parameters and genetic information enable psychiatrists to determine doses of the medicine more accurately.”

The Days of Experimenting with Doses of Psychiatric Medicines are Numbered

The studies and their findings of Assist. Prof. Jukić, PharmD, from the last three years carry important applicative consequences. The Food and Drug Administration has on the basis of the results of his studies changed the guidelines for prescribing certain psychiatric medicines in the USA. Dr Jukić expects that the European Medicines Agency will soon follow this trend: “In practice it happens that the doses of medicines for patients are determined with the help of the trial and error method, due to which numerous patients are suffering severely. This needs to be changed and I hope that my research will contribute to progress in this field.”

The algorithm which will on the basis of new findings about metabolism of certain active substances in psychiatric medicines enable individualized doses, will be useful when prescribing various medicines which are used in psychiatry, and especially when prescribing medicines for treating depression and anxiety: “These are two similar diseases which are treated with approximately ten similar medicines. We are currently studying two medicines, and if we manage to secure additional funding, we will extend the research to study six or seven more medicines. We want to enable psychiatrists that once they have chosen a medicine for an individual patient, they will with the help of the algorithm be able to accurately determine the most suitable dose for the patient. With this we would increase the success of treatment from the existing 30-40% success rate to approximately 50%. This may not sound like a great improvement, because half of the patients may still not respond adequately to a certain medicine. But if we know that every 20th person among us has severe anxiety attacks and depression, and that every fourth individual at least once in their life faces increased anxiety or even a depressive episode, a 10-percent higher treatment success is enormous, because it shows that when treating greater numbers of suffering patients, this will change their lives.”

What is the Message of COVID-19?

The new coronavirus which can in just a few months turn the life upside down and stop the whole world, is the proof of how powerless and non-resistant the human species actually is. “Even though we have not experienced some kind of a global cataclysm, at least not in our region, I still hope that we as a society will be able to draw something good out of it and establish that medical research must be supported and invested into. That the awareness of the importance of science and medical studies will be henceforth more strongly present in the population, in the media and of course in the decision-makers across the world who will dedicate more funds and support to research, and that we will be able to solve similar situations in the future in the best way possible, as well as prevent numerous victims and great suffering."

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“It is enough to take a walk through a psychiatric ward to understand what is going on there and what those patients are facing. These are completely ordinary and good people who at some point in their lives they strayed off the path a bit. To help these people so that tomorrow they can live better and more easily, is something which is worth fighting for time and again,” is convinced the esteemed Assist. Prof. Marin Jukić, PharmD, from the Faculty of Pharmacy Belgrade. “We researchers are curious, this is the essence of our nature, and our wish to help people and contribute to the development of the society is the motive which moves borders of what is known in science. This is why we persist and we stay dedicated and pledged to science.”

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