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This article reanalyses and reviews data from the two published randomized clinical trials comparing escitalopram and venlafaxine XR in the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder. The aim was to further compare the efficacy and tolerability of escitalopram and venlafaxine XR and to assess the impact of the two treatments on the patient's quality of life, as well as the benefit/risk of treatment. A total of 243 escitalopram-treated patients and 240 venlafaxine XR-treated patients were included in this analysis. Comparable treatment efficacy was achieved with respect to the prospectively defined primary efficacy endpoint (mean change from baseline in Montgomery Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) total score at week 8). An analysis of the outcome at the end of study by baseline severity showed that the treatment difference became greater the more severely depressed the patients were at baseline. At the highest permitted doses, in the subgroup of patients who were severely depressed (baseline MADRS ≥30), patients treated with escitalopram had a statistically significantly greater improvement (P<0.05) in mean MADRS total scores than patients treated with venlafaxine XR at endpoint. For these patients, treatment with 20 mg/day escitalopram resulted in a statistically significantly (P<0.05) higher remission rate at week 8 (47%) than treatment with venlafaxine XR (29%). This difference was confirmed by the analysis of the pooled data, which showed that patients in the escitalopram group had a significantly (P<0.05) higher mean number of depression-free days (30.4 days) than those in the venlafaxine XR group (26.2 days) over the 8-week period. The relative benefit of escitalopram versus venlafaxine XR was 1.46, indicating that a patient was more likely to benefit from treatment with escitalopram. The proportions of patients who withdrew owing to adverse events were 7.5% in the escitalopram group and 11.2% in the venlafaxine XR group. The mean number of discontinuation emergent signs and symptoms in the venlafaxine XR group (mean: 5.0) was significantly (P<0.001) higher than for the escitalopram group (mean: 2.4).