One in nine women in the United States experience symptoms of postpartum depression, a terrifying illness that is often difficult to treat.
That’s why we’re excited by news that the FDA has approved Brexanolone, a drug over 40 years in the making that is the first ever to specifically target the condition. (New York Times: F.D.A. Approves First Drug for Postpartum Depression)
The approval of Brexanolone is a cause for celebration for the entire field of neuroscience.
“It is one of the first drugs that fulfills the promise of basic neuroscience to provide truly novel and effective treatments for psychiatric disorders,” said National Institute of Mental Health Director Dr. Joshua Gordon, who was also a founding member of HDRF’s Depression Task Force before he was tapped by the federal government.
Believe it or not, all of the popular anti-depressants today — such as Prozac, Zoloft and Effexor, to name a few — owe their discovery to chance. They grew out of serendipitous discoveries of clinical benefit. But nobody knows the exact mechanism of how they work in the brain.
Brexanolone is different. It represents decades of basic science research that began in the 1940s and came to fruition in the 1980s (long before HDRF was created). While the new drug will be expensive and require intravenous infusions, researchers are now working on a version that can be given as a pill.
For more details on the timeline of discovery, please see this blog post on Brexanolone by the aforementioned Dr. Gordon.
The Mind/Brain Frontier in Medicine
The upshot is this: treatment development in psychiatry is not an overnight process (although it is accelerating with the advent of powerful new tools every passing year). It is often a long and winding road. But Brexanolone is a true “bench-to-bedside” story that underscores why basic neuroscience research today holds so much urgency for breakthrough tomorrow.
At HDRF, we advocate daily for the need for more basic neuroscience research into depression. Debilitating, deadly, and the leading cause of disability globally, depression is deserving of the vast research dollars and deep commitment that drive game-changing science.
HDRF and our Depression Task Force embody that innovation and commitment. Our team of top minds are in prime position to take advantage of the powerful tools now available to advance the understanding of the brain’s complex mood centers. Their basic findings are already pointing to new, more precise treatments and pilot clinical trials.
Our goal is not only treatments for depression, but, fundamentally, a cure. Only hard neuroscience research can get us there.