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Biogen sees ‘encouraging’ trends for postpartum depression drug

Dive Brief:

  • Biogen has seen “encouraging early trends” in the launch of its postpartum depression pill Zurzuvae, revealing in first quarter earnings drug sales that surpassed the estimates of Wall Street analysts.
  • Biogen said sales of Zurzuvae between January and March hit $12 million, up from $2 million in the fourth quarter of 2023 and doubling consensus estimates of $5 million to $6 million. The company didn’t, however, reveal the number of prescriptions filled for Zurzuvae, making demand for the drug difficult to track. 
  • Zurzuvae, which was discovered by Biogen partner Sage Therapeutics and approved by the Food and Drug Administration last August, is the only pill available specifically meant to treat postpartum depression, or PPD. But its sales prospects are uncertain, as the condition often goes undiagnosed, and many who are diagnosed don’t receive treatment.  

Dive Insight:

PPD affects about 1 in 8 women after giving birth and, when left untreated, can lead to substance abuse and suicide. 

Yet awareness of PPD, as well as treatment options, has evolved slowly. Women suspected of having PPD first receive psychotherapy, with drug interventions reserved for more severe cases. Even then, women were long prescribed commonly used antidepressants, which don’t always work and, if they do, can take weeks to kick in. 

Sage has tried to change those trends. It first launched an infused drug, Zulresso, in 2019 and followed last year with Zurzuvae. Sales of Zulresso have been minimal, largely due to its high price and 60-hour administration. But Zurzuvae, which Biogen acquired partial rights to in 2020, could be different, as it’s a pill that can be shipped to a person’s home and is taken daily for two weeks. At $15,900 per course, the drug is also less than half the wholesale cost of Zulresso. 

Still, analysts have had low expectations for the launch. Prescription numbers tracked by contract research and consulting firm Iqvia matched Zurzuvae’s low revenue numbers in the fourth quarter, wrote Stifel analyst Paul Matteis. Iqvia numbers had indicated “little weekly growth as of late” on prescriptions as well, Matteis wrote. 

The $12 million figure, then, caught analysts by surprise, suggesting that the data may not be reflecting the launch’s trajectory. 

On a conference call with analysts, Biogen executives indicated there are more prescribers now, and that women are more quickly able to access and get insurance coverage for the drug. 

“Across multiple physician types, we believe many providers are demonstrating an urgency to treat [PPD], notably OB-GYNs,” who led overall prescribing in the first quarter, said Alisha Alaimo, the head of Biogen’s North America division, on the conference call. That’s encouraging, “as they are often the first to see PPD patients.” 

Biogen also said two of the three national pharmacy benefit managers are covering the drug “without burdensome restrictions.” 

Some analysts are skeptical as to whether the positive signs will continue. Jefferies analyst Michael Yee questioned whether the jump in sales were a result of inventory stocking. Biogen’s slide presentation didn’t break out specific prescription numbers, Yee noted. 

Still, PPD has a peak annual sales opportunity of about $500 million, and “could be higher if sales continue to beat,” he wrote.