Blazing a New Trail in Psychiatry & Women’s Health: Jeff Jonas on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run is Jeff Jonas.

Jeff is the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Sage Therapeutics. The company made big news – front page of the New York Times  – a month ago. That’s when it won FDA clearance to sell the first drug ever for postpartum depression. It’s a big story for a number of reasons. Postpartum depression hits an estimated 10 percent of new moms every year in the US – about 400,000 people a year. The current SSRI drugs generally don’t work well, or work nearly fast enough in what can be an urgent mental health problem.

Jeff Jonas, CEO, Sage Therapeutics

Crucially, the Sage drug has a new mechanism of action – GABA receptor modulation. It’s not a reformulation or recycled incremental innovation. Not only is it new, this drug works. Brexanalone, marketed as Zulresso, works for about two-thirds of women with severe postpartum depression, who get it via infusion in the hospital after giving birth. The price: $34,000 for a course of therapy.

Sage now has given itself the task of cutting through the cultural taboos and stigma around postpartum depression. The biology is complicated. There’s a lot to learn. Disentangling it from environmental factors, and quantitative measurement of progress is hard – as with all psychiatric conditions. Postpartum depression is traditionally underreported and undertreated. This is supposed to be the happiest time in life, when a newborn arrives, right? Sage will succeed or fail as a commercial business based on its ability to roll the rock uphill, and encourage doctors and new moms to turn to this new molecule for help in getting through a difficult time.

Jonas, a psychiatrist by training who’s been around the block, knows the challenges in developing mental health drugs. In this conversation, he does a nice job of describing the landscape, and a few of the frustrations.

Now, please join me and Jeff Jonas on The Long Run.

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