Help may be on the way for moms suffering from postpartum depression.
Brexanolone (which goes by the brand name Zulresso) works within 48 hours — much faster than existing antidepressants, which can take weeks to become effective. It is administered intravenously over 60 continuous hours, which must be done under a doctor’s supervision.
Dr. Jess Fiedorowicz, a psychiatrist who was part of the advisory panel that recommended approval of the drug, told the Los Angeles Times:
“We don’t have any treatments that are anywhere near this effective. So this is groundbreaking in that regard.”
Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, a psychiatrist who led the drug’s clinical trials, told the Los Angeles Times that the speed with which the treatment takes effect is a major benefit. She added that postpartum depression is under-diagnosed and pointed to the high incidence of suicide as a result:
“For women suffering, you can say, ‘You can come in and be treated and in 2.5 days it can go away, and not come back.'”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one in nine women experiences postpartum depression. In a statement, Dr. Tiffany Farchione, acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said:
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening. Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child. Postpartum depression can also interfere with the maternal-infant bond. This approval marks the first time a drug has been specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, providing an important new treatment option.
The trials included women with severe or moderate postpartum depression. Though the moms were asked to stop breastfeeding during the treatment and for a few days afterward, researchers claim that very little of the drug gets into breast milk, making it safe for nursing mothers and babies.
Stephanie Hathaway, a mother of two, felt suicidal following the birth of her first child. After her second child was born, she was prescribed Zoloft, but it didn’t help. She then volunteered for the brexanolone clinical trial. She told the New York Times that she could tell the difference only 12 to 18 hours into the treatment:
“I actually woke up from a nap and those intrusive thoughts that played on repeat, they were gone.”
“I felt like myself again,” she added. “I’m not going to say I was 100 percent, but I will say there was so much less of a gap to get there.”
There is one major drawback to the new drug — the price. According to CNN, the initial price will be $7,450 per vial, making the average cost per treatment about $34,000 before discounts. The company says it expects insurers to cover the treatment, though most insurers are still evaluating the drug.
Doctors are optimistic that the speed and effectiveness of the drug will outweigh concerns about cost. Moreover, they believe it might help in identifying and treating postpartum depression. As Meltzer-Brody told CNN: