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An Algorithm-Based Approach to First-Episode Schizophrenia: Response Rates Over 3 Prospective Antipsychotic Trials With a Retrospective Data Analysis

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(11):1439-1444

Objective: Early, effective treatment in first-episode schizophrenia is advocated, although evidence based on a systematic approach over multiple antipsychotic trials is lacking. Employing a naturalistic design, we examined response rates over 3 circumscribed antipsychotic trials.

Method: Between June 2003 and December 2008, 244 individuals with first-episode schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder according to DSM-IV criteria were treated at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, following an algorithm that moved them through 2 antipsychotic trials, followed by a trial with clozapine. For the first 2 trials, treatment consisted of risperidone followed by olanzapine, or vice versa; each trial consisted of 3 stages (low-, full-, or high-dose) lasting up to 4 weeks at each level and adjusted according to response/tolerability. Clinical response was defined as a Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement score of 2 (much improved) or 1 (very much improved) and/or a Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale Thought Disorder subscale score ≤ 6. Data were analyzed retrospectively, and publication of anonymized clinical data was approved by the Research Ethics Board of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in May 2003.

Results: In trial 1, 74.5% of individuals responded, with rates significantly higher for olanzapine (82.1%, 115/140) versus risperidone (66.3%, 69/104; P = .005). With trial 2, response rate dropped dramatically to 16.6% but again was significantly higher for olanzapine (25.7%, 9/35) compared to risperidone (4.0%, 1/25; P = .04). Response rate climbed above 70% once more, specifically 75.0% (21/28), in those individuals who agreed to a third trial with clozapine.

Conclusions: Results confirm a high response rate (75%) to initial antipsychotic treatment in first-episode schizophrenia. A considerably lower response rate (< 20%) occurs with a second antipsychotic trial. Results here were specific to olanzapine and risperidone, suggesting clinical differences (ie, olanzapine more effective than risperidone). A subsequent trial with clozapine is clearly warranted, although it remains unclear whether outcome would be further enhanced if it were used earlier in the treatment algorithm.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: October 21, 2009; accepted April 26, 2010.

Online ahead of print: March 8, 2011 (doi:10.4088/JCP.09m05785yel).

Corresponding author: Ofer Agid, MD, Schizophrenia Program, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 250 College St, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 1R8, Canada (Ofer_agid@camh.net).