Sticker shock

First FDA-approved postpartum depression drug requires a 60-hour infusion — and $34,000

Ana and her baby Theo, a five-month-old, perform during a yoga session at the Gama Group center in Sao Paulo on September 19, 2013. (REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

The first drug specifically aimed at alleviating postpartum depression has been approved by the FDA, but the intensity of the treatment regime — not to mention its exorbitant cost — could give some women pause.

Brexanolone, which is marketed as Zulresso, is reportedly capable of reducing symptoms of postpartum depression within 48 hours — much faster than typical antidepressants, which can take two to four weeks to take effect.

But for now, the drug will likely remain out of reach for most sufferers. Brexanolone is delivered by infusion over 60 hours, during which time the patient must remain in a medical center under supervision. According to the drug’s manufacturer, Sage Therapeutics, it costs an average of $34,000 per patient, not including the cost of the stay at the medical center. A pill version of the treatment is expected to be submitted for approval within a couple of years if it passes clinical trials.

The drug’s approval represents a landmark step that experts say could lead to new treatments for mothers suffering from the condition. Depression is believed to affect as many as one in seven American women during or after pregnancy.

In clinical studies of the drug — which were sponsored, designed, and written by its manufacturer — brexanolone was extremely effective at reducing depression in severely depressed women, though only slightly more effective than a placebo pill. One woman in the trial said that the drug helped her deal with postpartum depression after other antidepressants failed. After the birth of her daughters, she said, she found herself crying constantly and unable to socialize.

“I started having intrusive thoughts that would not go away,” she said. “‘Your daughter deserves a better mom, and your husband deserves a better wife’ — that would just play on repeat.”

Just 12 hours after she began taking the infusion, she said, she “woke up from a nap and those intrusive thoughts that played on repeat, they were gone.”

“I felt like myself again,” she said.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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