The first pill to treat postpartum depression has been approved by US health officials

by Joshua Brown
postpartum depression pill

U.S. federal health officials have given the green light to the inaugural pill designed explicitly for the treatment of acute depression following childbirth. This condition impacts thousands of American new mothers annually.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided its approval for Zurzuvae, a drug tailored for adults who are undergoing intense depression associated with pregnancy or childbirth, on Friday. The treatment requires taking one pill every day over a two-week period.

Dr. Tiffany Farchione, who leads the FDA’s psychiatric drugs division, announced that the introduction of an oral medication would be advantageous to numerous women who grapple with profound and sometimes even perilous emotions.

Around 400,000 people suffer from postpartum depression each year in the U.S. Although it often resolves itself in a matter of weeks, it can persist for several months or even longer. Traditional methods of treatment include therapy or antidepressants, but these don’t always yield results and can take weeks to take effect.

Sage Therapeutics, the company behind the new pill, also produces a comparable intravenous drug that was approved by the FDA in 2019. However, it is rarely used due to its hefty $34,000 cost and the complexities associated with its administration.

The endorsement of Zurzuvae by the FDA relies on two studies conducted by the company, demonstrating that women who consumed the medication showed diminished symptoms of depression over a four- to six-week span compared to those who were given a placebo. Many patients experienced benefits as soon as three days after starting the treatment.

One patient, Sahar McMahon, 39, who became depressed after the birth of her second child, chose to participate in a study of the drug (chemically known as zuranolone). She noticed an improvement in her mood and overall outlook within days of commencing the treatment.

She expressed how swiftly she began to feel like herself again after taking the pills.

Dr. Kimberly Yonkers from Yale University praised the potency of Zurzuvae and anticipates it will be a chosen option for women who have not responded to traditional antidepressants. She did not partake in the drug’s trials but voiced concern over the FDA not demanding more prolonged follow-up data from Sage.

Yonkers, who focuses on postpartum depression, underscored the uncertainty surrounding the effects of the drug beyond 45 days, including the potential for relapse.

The pricing of the pill has not yet been disclosed by Sage, and according to Yonkers, this will play a significant role in its prescription frequency.

Compared to its intravenous counterpart, the new drug’s side effects are relatively mild and may include sensations of drowsiness and dizziness. Massachusetts-based Biogen partnered with Sage to co-develop the drug.

Both pill and IV versions act similarly to a derivative of progesterone, a hormone essential for sustaining pregnancy but can dramatically drop after childbirth.

The drugs from Sage form part of an emerging category of medications known as neurosteroids, which stimulate a distinct neural pathway in comparison to traditional antidepressants that focus on serotonin, a chemical tied to mood and emotions.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group supports the Big Big News Health and Science Department. The AP is exclusively responsible for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about postpartum depression pill

What is the significance of the FDA’s approval of Zurzuvae?

The FDA’s approval of Zurzuvae is groundbreaking as it marks the first-ever pill specifically intended to treat severe depression in new mothers after childbirth. This offers hope to thousands of women in the U.S. who experience postpartum depression each year.

How does Zurzuvae differ from traditional treatments for postpartum depression?

Unlike standard treatments like counseling or antidepressants, Zurzuvae provides a new option that targets severe postpartum depression. It is taken orally once a day for 14 days and has shown promising results in reducing depression symptoms within a shorter period.

What are the benefits of Zurzuvae compared to the existing intravenous drug by Sage Therapeutics?

Zurzuvae’s approval provides a more convenient and accessible form of treatment compared to Sage Therapeutics’ intravenous drug. The new pill has milder side effects and appears to have a strong effect on reducing depression symptoms, offering a potential alternative to those who haven’t responded well to traditional antidepressants.

How many people are affected by postpartum depression each year in the U.S.?

An estimated 400,000 people experience postpartum depression annually in the United States. While some cases resolve on their own within a few weeks, others can persist for months or even years.

What is the role of Zurzuvae in postpartum depression treatment?

Zurzuvae is a derivative of progesterone, a hormone vital for maintaining pregnancy. It acts as a neurosteroid, stimulating a different brain pathway compared to traditional antidepressants targeting serotonin. The drug’s effect is robust, and it is likely to be prescribed to women who have not responded well to other treatments. However, there are calls for more extended follow-up data to better understand the drug’s long-term effects.

How quickly can patients expect to see improvements with Zurzuvae?

Patients who took Zurzuvae experienced benefits within a remarkably short period, with many reporting improved mood and outlook within just three days of starting the treatment.

Will Zurzuvae be an affordable option for postpartum depression treatment?

The pricing of Zurzuvae has not been disclosed by Sage Therapeutics yet. The cost will be a crucial factor in determining how widely it is prescribed and accessible to those in need of this innovative treatment option.

Are there any side effects associated with Zurzuvae?

The side effects of Zurzuvae are generally milder compared to its intravenous counterpart. Common side effects include drowsiness and dizziness.

How does Zurzuvae’s FDA approval impact maternal mental health?

The approval of Zurzuvae represents a significant advancement in maternal mental health care. It provides a potential lifeline for new mothers struggling with severe postpartum depression, offering them a specific treatment option tailored to their needs.

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JaneDoe86 August 5, 2023 - 11:36 pm

wow, finally a pill 4 postpartum depreSion! th@’s a big deal! mums deserve help, it’s tuff after childbirth. hope it helps many!

JohnSmith22 August 6, 2023 - 8:36 am

postpartum depreson is real, seen my wife strugglin. glad there’s anothr option now. hope it’s affordable & availbl to all moms!


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