FDA Approves First Drug To Treat Postpartum Depression

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Mother and baby. (Courtesy of Juanedc/Flickr)
Mother and baby. (Courtesy of Juanedc/Flickr)

For the first time in history, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment for postpartum depression, a mental illness that affects about one in nine mothers after childbirth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"For new moms who are struggling, the postpartum period is such a difficult time. So there's been a great need for new treatments that act rapidly," Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, who was the academic principal investigator in clinical trials for the new drug called Zulresso, tells Here & Now's Robin Young.

The drug, which is delivered through a one-time, 60-hour intravenous infusion, may improve symptoms of postpartum depression within 24 hours, Meltzer-Brody says.

Interview Highlights

On traditional treatments for postpartum depression

"Postpartum depression has traditionally been treated with either psychotherapy or with standard anti-depressants. And while both of those could be effective in many women, both psychotherapy and antidepressant therapy can take four to six weeks or longer to work."

On how Zulresso works differently

"It is a formulation of allopregnanolone, which is a breakdown product of progesterone, one of the common female hormones. ... There's been interest for years in the fact that it could have potentially antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. When we had the chance to study it for the first time at UNC going on five years ago, in the first patients, there was rapid and robust response to the medication within the first 24 hours. So it's just been a really interesting and exciting step forward for women's mental health."

On potential roadblocks, including the treatment's $34,000 price tag

"I certainly hope insurance will pick up the cost. I think that all new drugs are very expensive. ... I think this is really a breakthrough therapy. To be able to quickly relieve symptoms will have a huge economic positive impact when you think about women that struggle for months or longer or are unable to work. It is certainly going to be a treatment for women with more moderate to severe symptoms because it is an IV infusion. But for many women, if you say, 'Within 60 hours, you will no longer have these symptoms, or they will be almost gone,' that is really life changing."

Savannah Maher produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna

This segment aired on March 20, 2019.


Savannah Maher Associate Producer, Here & Now
Savannah Maher was formerly an associate producer for Here & Now. Her work has also aired on New Hampshire Public Radio and WCAI, and appeared on NPR's Code Switch blog.


Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.



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