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UVA psychiatrist discusses pill under review for treatment of post-partum depression

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Zuranolone is under Food and Drug Administration review for the treatment of post-partum depression.

If approved by the FDA, medicine would have its first pill to treat a mood disorder that affects 13 percent of women who give birth, and 30 to 50 percent of women who give birth and have previously experienced a mood disorder.

“It’s almost like this pill helps calm the brain down,” said UVA psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Payne in a webinar with local media Friday morning.

In research to address post-partum depression, clinical trial data “obviously who a real strong response” with zuranolone, which resets the brain into more normal activity and out of a depressive activity.

Previously, the only treatment for post-partum depression was an oral version introduced in 2019 which is taken intravenously for three days.

Zuranolone can also be used to treat major depression, according to Payne.

“And brings online a whole new way to treat depression,” she said.

The pill is a game changer for post-partum depression because it is a 14-day course and acts quickly to combat symptoms.

Payne said that only 70 percent of patients within a year of taking zuranolone required one or two more treatments.

Questions still necessary to answer in research include what to do for patients who do not have a sustained response and does the pill work for other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and anxiety.

“So, there’s going to be a lot of research that needs to be done with this agent,” Payne said.

Standard anti-depressants help post-partum depression, Payne said, but have only a a 50 percent response rate.

“I think the main implication is we still have work to do,” she said. Including, finding out who zuranolone will work for.

The most important step with current care of post-partum depression, Payne said, is to identify women who are suffering from it.

“Less than 50 percent of women with post-partum depression are identified,” she said.

Many women do not want to take medication while breast feeding, and admitting they are depressed after having a baby is unusual for women to admit. Payne said a stigma exists for women that they cannot admit having depression after experiencing a happy life event.

Payne has developed bio-makers to identify during pregnancy which women are at risk for developing post-partum depression.

The FDA is expected to approve zuranolone any day now. If so, the pill would be available to women possibly in mid-November.

Payne said post-partum depression is the most common complication of child birth. Treating the mood disorder is important so that a baby’s development is not affected.

Through National Institute of Health-funded studies, zuranolone has been under development for 12 years. After identifying biomarkers of post-partum depression, a blood test was developed that can identify women who are at risk in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Symptoms of post-partum depression include feeling sad and low, appearing anxious, excessive worry about her baby, difficulty sleeping, lack of self care, exhaustion, negativity, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation or thoughts of harming the baby.

“Post-partum depression is absolutely treatable,” Payne said.

Payne suggested that if a loved one suspects a woman is suffering from post-partum depression, contact her OBGYN or primary care physician.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.