The weeks-long delay in drug effectiveness is a huge barrier to treatment. This could change the game.
Starting antidepressants can be a pretty frustrating process. It generally takes several weeks for the meds to take effect and months can go by before you even note any progress. This can feel like an eternity if you’re managing anxiety or depression and just want some type of relief. But the nature of that waiting game might soon change: This week, Sage Therapeutics announced that its new drug, zuranolone, improved depression symptoms in a matter of days in clinical trials, according to Reuters.
Sage’s stage three trials consisted of 440 participants who have previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, which is a severe type of depression that can seriously disrupt your day-to-day. Some were given zuranolone with antidepressants while others took antidepressants and a placebo. The results of the study showed that those who took zuranolone paired with antidepressants noticed a positive change in their depressive symptoms, including less anxiety and sadness, after just three days, compared to those who took only the antidepressants. While it’s early in the game, these findings are extremely encouraging because faster acting medication could help people address their depression faster and avoid its worst cumulative effects (which can include suicidal ideation).
Despite all the promising results, though, the trial didn’t show any significant difference in the effects of zuranolone and antidepressants after 42 days. Sage’s stock actually fell this week and analysts have questioned whether the drug would have significant commercial appeal, per Market Watch.
Still, a faster-acting antidepressant is an important scientific development regardless of how long the effects last. Rates of anxiety and depression have soared during the pandemic and overwhelmed mental health services means that many are not getting the help they need. Once someone identifies their depression and decides to get help, it can take a long time to get to speak to a psychiatrist, get a prescription and start taking antidepressants. To wait several more weeks or months after that for the drugs to take effect can be deadly, especially for people who are sucidial — according to one study, most young who attempt suicide do so within hours or days after having suicidal thoughts.
Sage is planning to complete an application to get FDA approval by the second half of this year. Hopefully, this all happens before the cold weather kicks in and the umpteenth COVID variant is discovered. At this point, I’m banking on zuranolone for my next rush of serotonin.