The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) just approved an oral treatment for postnatal depression. What about in Europe?
A new pill for postpartum depression was approved by US authorities last month to treat a common problem for mothers globally.
While experts warned it’s not a miracle solution, it’s a new option for the many women struggling with depression after pregnancy.
It’s a striking statistic about the mental health of new mothers: suicide is the leading cause of death among mothers in the first year after pregnancy in the UK.
Understanding postpartum depression
It is common for women to experience mood swings after the birth of a child. If the symptoms only occur for a brief period of time, this could be what has been coined as the "baby blues".
But if the symptoms last for more than two weeks, it could be signs of postpartum depression (PPD). The symptoms range from persistent feeling of sadness and low mood to frightening thoughts about not being able to take care of the baby for example.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), PPD affects more than one in every ten women. Globally, the estimated rate of women suffering from PPD is between 10 and 20 per cent.
What is Zurzuvae?
US authorities approved the use of Zurzuvae (zuranolone) developed by Sage Therapeutics in August. It’s an oral medication to take for 14 days to treat postpartum depression.
"Because postpartum depression can disrupt the maternal-infant bond, it can also have consequences for the child’s physical and emotional development," said Tiffany R. Farchione, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
"Having access to an oral medication will be a beneficial option for many of these women coping with extreme, and sometimes life-threatening, feelings," she added.
Two thorough trials were conducted, and the results were published in The American Journal of Psychiatry with the conclusion that the molecule was “generally well tolerated”.
"It’s always interesting to have new molecules," Dr Sylvie Viaux-Savelon, co-president of the World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) in France, told Euronews Next.
Zuranolone works by influencing type A GABA receptors, a different line of action compared to classic antidepressants.
"Though, there's no way of knowing if there are relapses," she said, adding that usually antidepressants are used for six months to avoid this.
But for patients with resistance to routine treatment, this is an optimistic new option.
Where does Europe stand?
The current focus is "preparing for a successful US launch" Biogen, the company partnering with Sage Therapeutics to develop Zurzuvae told Euronews Next.
But, the company is exploring "opportunities to bring it to patients outside the US," they added.
Usually, postpartum depression is treated with a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically used because they are compatible with breastfeeding.
"It’s important to have a multidisciplinary treatment. Drugs are just a part of it, not the entirety of it. In some cases, therapy can be enough," said Viaux-Savelon.
For her, it’s important to conduct check-ups with mothers after birth to detect whether they may have post-partum depression.
In July 2022, France made these check-ups mandatory.
The NHS recommends having a final postnatal check six to eight weeks after birth with a GP but before that, the midwives are in charge of the patient’s monitoring.
Sweden, meanwhile, implemented "parental centres" that aim to bring medical and social support by making new parents meet each other.