When a patient first begins to take antidepressants, there is actually a chance that person may commit suicide within the first two weeks — it's known as medication-induced suicide. The risk increases during this recovery period, and scientists have not known why in the past. Though many anti-depressants in the U.S. and Canada label their products with a warning about medication-induced suicide, doctors are still often uncertain as to who may be at risk. According to the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, 59 percent of patients committed suicide within two weeks of initial treatment with antidepressants, and 8 percent experienced the adverse effects of medication when they first began taking them.

The company Sundance Diagnostics announced today that it would enter a licensing agreement with the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, which had completed the foundational research on these genetic markers in order to bring a new suicidality test into the market. The suicidality test would be able to identify a person’s suicide risk based on certain gene markers. The researchers hope this can curb the number of people who lean toward medication-induced suicidality. More than 9 million new antidepressants are prescribed per year.

“Our hope is that the new test will assist the physician in significantly reducing the risk of suicide emerging from antidepressant drug use and will provide patients and families with valuable personal information to use with their doctors in weighing the risks and benefits of the medications,” Kim Bechtold, CEO of Sundance Diagnostics, said in a news release. The researchers also found that the risk for suicide linked to antidepressants covers almost all age groups from 18 to 75.

For a long time, it’s been known that people who are beginning to recover from severe depression are more likely to be at risk for suicidality than people who are suffering from serious depression before beginning treatment. In the original study that prompted the genetic test to be developed, the authors wrote, “Even though the genetics of [suicidal ideation during antidepressant treatment] are limited by the small number of affected cases, even in large pharmacogenetic studies, this study — as well as previous reports — suggests that genetic markers may be used as tools to identify patients at risk for this serious side effect.” Sundance announced that they will begin clinical studies on the test for FDA market clearance.

Source: Menke A, Domschke K, Czamara D, et al. Genome-Wide Association Study of Antidepressant Treatment-Emergent Suicidal Ideation. Neuropharmacology. [Published online October 26, 2011] doi:10.1038/npp.2011.257.