Conference Coverage

Oral drug for postpartum depression aces phase 3 trial



– A first-in-class, once-daily, orally administered neuroactive steroid known for now as SAGE-217 aced all of its primary and secondary outcomes for the treatment of postpartum depression in the phase 3, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled ROBIN study, Eduard Vieta, MD, PhD, said at the annual congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Dr. Eduardo Vieta, professor of psychiatry at the University of Barcelona Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Eduardo Vieta

“I think this changes the paradigm in the treatment of postpartum depression,” declared Dr. Vieta, professor of psychiatry and head of the bipolar disorders program at the University of Barcelona.

Like brexanolone (Zulresso), an intravenous formulation of allopregnanolone approved by the Food and Drug Administration in March 2019 as the first-ever drug specifically targeting postpartum depression, SAGE-217 is a positive allosteric modifier of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABA-A receptors. That differentiates the two drugs from benzodiazepines, which target only synaptic receptors. Both brexanolone and SAGE-217 are drugs developed by Sage Therapeutics. But SAGE-217, an investigational agent, is vastly more convenient to use than brexanolone since, as an oral drug, it doesn’t require hospitalization for intravenous administration.

Dr. Vieta ticked off five reasons why he considers SAGE-217 a game changer in the treatment of postpartum depression: “It’s an amazingly effective compound, with an effect size that’s bigger than we usually see with antidepressants. It has an early onset of action, similar to what we see with glutaminergic agents, although with an opposite mechanism: enhancing GABA rather than opposing glutamate. It has excellent tolerability, similar to placebo. It’s made to be used orally, a major advantage over other drugs that are available or close to becoming available, which have to be given IV. And last but not least, a patient will get it for only 2 weeks. The treatment can be stopped after 2 weeks, and there is long-term improvement.”

The ROBIN trial included 151 patients with postpartum depression as defined by a baseline Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) score of at least 26 who were randomized double-blind to 14 days of SAGE-217 at 30 mg once daily or to placebo. The primary endpoint was the change in HAM-D scores between baseline and day 15. The key finding was that the SAGE-217 group averaged a 17.8-point reduction, significantly greater than the 13.6-point improvement with placebo. This advantage was maintained at assessment on day 45 – a full month after treatment stopped – with a 24.8-point improvement over baseline in the SAGE-217 recipients, compared with a 19-point reduction in controls. The advantage favoring SAGE-217 was significant as early as day 3, the first assessment, at which point the average improvement in HAM-D was 12.5 points, compared with 9.8 points in controls.

Other secondary endpoints included change from baseline to day 15 on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS): a 22.8-point improvement in the SAGE-217 group, significantly greater than the 17.6-point improvement in the placebo arm. The same pattern was evident at day 45, with reductions in MADRS of 24.8 and 19 points, respectively, in the SAGE-217 and placebo groups.

Another key prespecified secondary endpoint was change in scores on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety through day 15. There was a mean 16.6-point drop in the active treatment arm, compared with a 12.7-point improvement with placebo, again a statistically significant and clinically meaningful between-group difference. This is an important endpoint because comorbid anxiety is common in the setting of postpartum depression, the psychiatrist continued.

The SAGE-217 group also demonstrated significantly higher rates of HAM-D response as defined by a 50% or greater reduction in total score at day 15, as well as in HAM-D remission, which entails having a score of 7 or less.

Treatment-emergent adverse events in the SAGE-217 and placebo arms were similar in frequency and type. The most common adverse events associated with SAGE-217 – all occurring in single-digit frequencies – were sleepiness, headache, dizziness, upper respiratory infections, and diarrhea. There was no signal of increased suicidal thoughts or behavior as assessed using the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale.

SAGE-217 also is the focus of an ongoing pivotal phase 3 trial in patients with major depression. In addition, the drug is under study for bipolar depression, major depressive disorder with comorbid insomnia, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Dr. Vieta reported serving on advisory boards for Sage Therapeutics, the study sponsor, as well as for two dozen other pharmaceutical companies. He receives research funding from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education, the Stanley Medical Research Institute, and more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies.

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