Drug Effective in Treating Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Jaleesa Baulkman

July 06, 2021

Those suffering from postpartum depression may have a more convenient treatment option, compared with the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to specifically treat this mood disorder.

Observations from phase 3 of a clinical trial published in JAMA Psychiatry shows that zuranolone, an oral drug, improved the core symptoms of postpartum depression after just 3 days.

Postpartum depression affects approximately one in eight women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brexanolone (Zulresso), which was approved by the FDA in 2019 to treat this condition, is administered intravenously over a 60-hour period with medical supervision.

"Many women don't have child care and are unable to go to a hospital setting for 72 hours to receive treatment," study author Kristina Deligiannidis, MD, associate professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Manhasset, N.Y., said in an interview. "The field really does need a variety of new and novel treatments that are fast acting. It is of utmost importance that we treat [postpartum depression] as quickly as possible because it has significant effects on maternal function, mood, and the ability to care for infants."

Deligiannidis and colleagues randomly placed 153 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 45 years, who were 6 months or less post partum, into a group that would receive either a placebo or 30 mg of zuranolone daily for 2 weeks. The participants were followed for 45 days to test the effect of the drug.

Researchers measured depression using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD-17) — where a score of 10-13 means a patient has mild symptoms, 14-17 means mild to moderate symptoms, and anything over 17 equals moderate to severe symptoms. At the baseline of the study, the average HAMD-17 score of those in the zuranolone and placebo groups were 28.4 and 28.8, respectively.

Researchers found that after day 3, 41% of those in the zuranolone group had a 50% or greater reduction in HAMD-17 score from baseline. By day 15, the day after their last dose, 72% of those who had taken zuranolone had a reduction in HAMD-17 compared with 56% of those who had taken the placebo. By day 45, that increased to 75% in the zuranolone group and 57% in the placebo group.

Deligiannidis, who initially wasn't sure how long it would take for patients to see the beneficial effects of zuranolone, was surprised by how fast-acting the oral drug appeared to be in the clinical trial. Unlike brexanolone, which is infused into the veins and has rapid access to the brain and nervous system, zuranolone is an oral medicine that has to go through the stomach and the gastrointestinal tract, and then it has to go into the blood system and then has to cross the blood-brain barrier, she explained.

By day 15, 45% of women who took zuranolone received a HAMD-17 score of 7 or under, meaning they have remitted depression. By day 45, 53% of women who had taken the drug were in remission.

Although the zuranolone was well tolerated, about 5% of the group experienced adverse events. Of those who experienced side effects, 15% experienced drowsiness, 9% suffered from headaches, and 8% experienced dizziness and developed an upper respiratory infection. Participants also suffered diarrhea and sedation.

Lissette Tanner, MD, MPH, FACOG, who was not involved with the study, thought the current study's findings were promising and would be a great alternative to brexanolone.

"You have the additional benefit that it's an oral agent as opposed to injection, which I know a lot of patients often have concerns about," said Tanner, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta. "[It's] an exciting prospect for clinical care to be able to prescribe an oral agent patients can feel comfortable taking at home."

When it comes to the study's method, Tanner noted that the researchers used the HAMD-17 scale as opposed to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), something that is used "a lot more in clinical situations and providers are a lot more familiar with." Using the EPDS score would be more applicable "in terms of introducing these medications into true clinical care."

In terms of follow-up, Tanner said there may be a need for ongoing research that follows the study participants for more than 45 days.

"For depressive symptoms in particular, oftentimes those symptoms ebb and flow. So seeing if there is a long-term response to these medications or just kind of an immediate onset then wane will be important in the future," she added.

Tanner is also interested in pharmacokinetic studies involving zuranolone to see how much of the medication may potentially pass into breast milk.

Deligiannidis and Tanner had no financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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