There’s a New Drug Being Tested to Treat PPD, and It Could Be a Total Game-Changer

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Compared to just a few years ago, postpartum depression is becoming way less taboo, thanks in part to the many moms who have bravely shared their stories. Still, many mothers who experience signs of PPD suffer in silence, afraid that they will be stigmatized for having it. The stats prove this, as well: although postpartum depression affects as many as 1 in 7 moms, only about 15% will actually receive treatment.

Part of the problem is that mothers often don’t know where to turn for treatment, and many are afraid of being viewed as a “bad mom” if they admit that they’re even suffering. Others are afraid that their baby will be taken away from them if they reveal the depth of their depression. And even among moms who do seek help, many just generally feel skeptical that they’ll actually get the help they need.

What’s more, treatment plans for PPD aren’t always clear-cut or straightforward. Talk therapy can be helpful, but it can also be hard to find a therapist you trust or even get to easily while juggling a newborn. And if you’re prescribed an anti-depressant like moms generally are for PPD, it can take weeks to work — weeks in which your condition can deteriorate even further.

You can then see why the whole thing is often stressful and dizzying for a new mom — especially one who’s already weighed down by crippling the effects of PPD.

But thanks to a new postpartum depression drug that’s currently being tested, all that could be changing very soon. It’s called Brexanolone, and it was developed by a Biotech firm called Sage Therapeutics. Although the drug hasn’t hit the market yet, what’s unique about it is that it’s being developed specifically to treat PPD, and results so far have been extremely promising.

Unlike drugs normally prescribed to moms suffering from PPD (usually SSRIs like Zoloft, which are also used to treat general depression and anxiety), Brexanolone targets the hormonal shifts and imbalances postpartum women experience, and that experts believe contribute significantly to PPD.

“During pregnancy, both estrogen and progesterone, the two major female hormones, go sky high,” Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, a perinatal psychiatrist from the University of North Carolina’s Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, told HuffPost. “That’s normal. At the time of delivery, they fall precipitously. That happens in all women. There’s been a theory that some women are differentially sensitive to that rise and fall.”

Jeff Jonas, M.D., and CEO of Sage Therapeutics, told The Cut that Brexanolone specifically balances hormonal shifts experienced by woman postpartum. It acts as a natural relaxant as well, quelling the speeding thoughts and hyperactivity experienced commonly by moms who are diagnosed with PPD.

‘The changes were drastic. These were women who were profoundly depressed and then within 48 hours got significantly better.’
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The drug has undergone three clinical trial periods so far, where it’s dramatically alleviated symptoms in moms with severe PPD — and quickly.

According to Jonas, patients participating in the trials were given IV infusions of Brexanolone, and were observed for two days.

“By the second trial, women had about a 70 percent remission rate,” Jonas shared. “The changes were drastic. These were women who were profoundly depressed and then within 48 hours got significantly better. We followed these patients out to about a month, and the large majority remained well.”

That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me. And it’s especially important that PPD is treated effectively and quickly, because PPD is linked to maternal suicide and child harm, neither of which should be taken lightly.

The drug has yet to hit the market, though Sage Therapeutics hopes that it will be available by 2019. And even if the drug isn’t helpful in all cases of PPD (certainly there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for such a complex issue), what’s noteworthy about this development is that it points to the fact that we are beginning to treat PPD with the seriousness it deserves.

“Most treatments for depression take six weeks to show any effect, so there’s not always a lot of urgency to begin treatment,” Jonas told The Cut. “It’s not seen as an acute condition. But if you walk into the emergency room in diabetic shock or with a 105-degree fever, you see the specialist right away, and are treated immediately for a life-threatening condition. Now, you have a drug that potentially will make people better within two days, so maybe we’ll start to treat postpartum depression as the acute, life-threatening condition it is.”


We can’t gloss over the issue of PPD, or lump it together with general depression or anxiety. Postpartum mothers must have their symptoms taken seriously, and receive thorough, prompt, and compassionate care. It’s heartwarming to see that things are moving in the right direction.

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