Biotech Shares Like Biogen, Sage Intention To Rewrite The Despair Therapy Mannequin

As a microscopic virus introduced the world to its knees in 2020, a long-simmering psychological well being disaster erupted. Skyrocketing charges of melancholy and nervousness uncovered a obvious void: The present suite of melancholy remedies do not match many sufferers.


A gaggle of biotech shares together with Biogen (BIIB) and Sage Therapeutics (SAGE) hope to alter that as quickly as this yr.

Psychiatrists have famous the shortfall earlier than, however the coronavirus pandemic put it entrance and heart. By some accounts, charges of melancholy and nervousness climbed at the very least threefold because the world struggled to comprise private and societal dangers. Some consultants see the pandemic as a “triggering occasion” that ballooned the variety of melancholy sufferers into the tens of hundreds of thousands. In the meantime, too few docs might tackle the sudden inflow of sufferers.

The seismic shift opened the window for biotech shares that started testing new approaches to melancholy years in the past. This group of principally small corporations contains behemoth Biogen, teamed up with Sage Therapeutics, on what might be the fastest-acting melancholy drug to hit the market. The trouble has but to spice up Biogen inventory or Sage inventory, however the two hope to win approval for the drug this yr.

Lesser-known names are pursuing different approaches that would shake the decadeslong maintain available on the market by conventional melancholy remedies like Prozac and Zoloft. One firm, Axsome Therapeutics (AXSM), already has submitted a brand new kind of melancholy drug to regulators and will win approval any day.

“Whereas melancholy and mind well being points had been an issue previous to the Covid pandemic, Covid has definitely exacerbated the problem and has created a 3(fold) to fourfold enhance within the quantity of melancholy on the earth,” Sage Chief Govt Barry Greene informed Investor’s Enterprise Each day. “We actually are in a mind well being pandemic.”

Biotech Shares: Why Despair Is Tough

Treating melancholy is hard as a result of the mind stays largely a thriller to researchers. A cookie-cutter strategy to melancholy remedy does not work.

SSRI depression treatments“It’s extremely tough to homogenize such a broad illness,” Wedbush analyst Laura Chico informed IBD. “It may be attributable to environmental, genetic, physiological components.”

One of the best parallel is dementia, she says. The trigger might be Alzheimer’s illness. Or, it might be vascular or Lewy physique dementia, which impacts pondering and reasoning.

The dementia is also a drug-induced situation. The signs are the identical. However one remedy for all? It does not exist.

That is why sufferers usually cycle by melancholy remedies. Frequent remedies embrace Prozac and Cymbalta, which affect a neurotransmitter within the mind referred to as serotonin.

Biotech Shares Face Advanced Construction

However these medicine carry an inventory of doable unwanted side effects together with weight acquire and, in males, sexual dysfunction. Advantages could not come for a month or longer, if in any respect.

Brain illustration
Complicating issues for melancholy drug makers is the unwieldy construction of the human mind. (Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock)

“You are speaking about probably the most difficult construction within the identified universe,” mentioned Dr. Michael McGee, president of WellMind, an internet site that connects sufferers with therapists. “I believe we do not actually perceive how these medicines work. It is extraordinarily difficult.”

Biotech shares hope to make a distinction. The corporate that will get it proper may benefit with a bit of what Wedbush’s Chico sees as a $16 billion to $18 billion alternative over the subsequent 5 years. Analysis agency Emergen Analysis says the melancholy remedy market might hit $16.1 billion by 2027.

New melancholy medicine should differentiate themselves from the 40-year-old remedies available on the market.

“Nobody desires to make the fifteenth SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or the twentieth SNRI (serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor),” Chico mentioned. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Lexapro belong to the SSRI class of antidepressants. Cymbalta and Effexor are SNRIs.

Undoing The Despair Therapy Paradigm

Despair remedies at this time are carried out “by trial and error,” says Sage CEO Greene.

Greene notes the battle in postpartum melancholy, which impacts one in eight moms. New moms want extra speedy remedy than typical antidepressants can supply.

Sage stock
One in eight moms suffers from postpartum melancholy, and so they want extra speedy remedy than different antidepressants. (©globalmoments/

Sage sells a postpartum melancholy remedy — the one one available on the market — referred to as Zulresso. However Zulresso hasn’t been an enormous business success. Sufferers obtain Zulresso as a 60-hour infusion within the hospital. The drug is so sedating that sufferers can lose consciousness.

The infusion time “is a giant ask” for brand new moms, Wedbush’s Chico says.

In testing, Zulresso repeatedly outperformed a placebo in assuaging signs of melancholy. However within the first quarter, it introduced in simply $1.6 million in gross sales, matching the year-earlier interval.

Greene thinks Sage can do higher. Now, with Biogen at its aspect, the corporate is engaged on a brand new melancholy remedy referred to as zuranolone. The businesses plan to ask the Meals and Drug Administration to approve zuranolone for each main depressive dysfunction and postpartum melancholy later this yr. The impact on Sage inventory and Biogen inventory stays to be seen.

Like Zulresso, zuranolone works by modulating a neurotransmitter referred to as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Biotech inventory Sage has yo-yoed on hopes for its melancholy remedy.

A Lengthy-Lasting New Despair Therapy?

For biotech inventory traders, the hope for zuranolone lies in its fast onset and seemingly lengthy influence.

Sufferers take zuranolone for 2 weeks and will doubtlessly really feel its influence for a yr or longer. That concept performed out in testing. Relying on the dosage, 70%-80% of sufferers in a single examine solely wanted a single two-week course of zuranolone to really feel higher for a yr.

Sage Therapeutics CEO Barry Greene
Sage Therapeutics Chief Govt Barry Greene (Sage Therapeutics)

Just like the psychiatrist, Dr. McGee, Biogen’s Kate Dawson says it isn’t completely clear how zuranolone works. Dawson is a neurologist by coaching and heads up Biogen’s therapeutics growth unit.

“In melancholy, you see some modifications within the circuitry — which circuits within the mind are energetic, which of them are much less energetic,” she informed IBD. “What we see with taking this drug is a change again to extra regular circuit exercise. So, the pondering is by some means it modulates or permits the mind circuits which might be affected in melancholy to return to extra regular perform.”

Sage Therapeutics CEO Greene says a “triggering occasion” doubtless causes the mind’s circuitry to go haywire alongside the GABA pathway. Zuranolone works to rewire the mind, he says. For many individuals, the triggering occasion might be shedding a beloved one or a job. However many consultants really feel that for hundreds of thousands of individuals since 2020, the societal struggles of a pandemic are in charge.

He estimates 21 million folks within the U.S. have melancholy. Of these, he sees roughly a 3rd as newly identified or getting remedy.

Biotech Inventory Analyst: Despair Medicine Will Be Dear

These numbers depart a giant window for different biotech shares engaged on new melancholy remedies.

Zuranolone seems to work in a wide selection of individuals, from an 18-year-old lady to a 60-year-old man in all races, weights and demographics, Greene says.

Prozac pills SSRI drug depression treatments
It prices $556 for a 30-day provide of Prozac, thought-about an SSRI drug, in accordance with (Simone —

However zuranolone might be costly, says SVB Securities analyst Marc Goodman. He famous drug corporations sometimes worth melancholy remedies for power use. Sufferers take Prozac as soon as a day, for instance. It prices $556 for a 30-day provide, in accordance with That is about $18.53 per tablet, or $6,765 for a yr’s provide.

If zuranolone makes use of an analogous pricing mannequin, which means every tablet in a 14-day provide can be value a hair above $483.

“They are going to worth it very excessive for brief intervals of utilization,” Goodman informed IBD.

Greene declined to debate pricing, apart from to say the businesses will “worth in a method that acknowledges the necessity for finances and well being care affordability.”

Different Antidepressant Approaches From Biotech Shares

Analyst Goodman can also be conserving his eye on biotech shares Axsome Therapeutics and Relmada Therapeutics (RLMD). Each hope to work together with the N-methyl-D-aspartate neurotransmitter, generally referred to as NMDA.

AXSM Therapeutics stock
Axsome is engaged on an antidepressant designed to work together with a neurotransmitter referred to as NMDA. (Pavel Kapysh/

Many see dysregulation of NMDA taking part in a job in melancholy, Relmada Chief Medical Officer Marco Pappagallo informed IBD by e-mail. The primary era of those merchandise embrace ketamine. In the present day, the one FDA authorised type of ketamine is Johnson & Johnson‘s (JNJ) Spravato.

A well being care skilled should watch a Spravato affected person for 2 hours because of the potential for disassociation. Relmada hopes to copy the speedy influence “whereas avoiding the psychosis-like, dissociative and hallucinogenic results typical of the stronger first-generation NMDA receptor antagonists,” he mentioned.

Axsome is engaged on one other NMDA-targeting drug. Its melancholy remedy is a novel formulation of Wellbutrin and a cough suppressant. In a single examine, the twice-daily tablet eased melancholy signs for over a yr. The corporate has already submitted its outcomes to the FDA.

“It might be authorised as early as tomorrow,” mentioned Goodman, the SVB Securities analyst. He has a pair of outperform scores on the biotech shares.

Work On New Despair Remedies Predates Covid

Biotechs like Biogen inventory and Sage inventory had been engaged on melancholy remedies earlier than the Covid pandemic. However the pandemic highlighted — and exacerbated — the necessity.

Zoloft SSRI drug depression treatment biotech stocks
Together with Prozac, Zoloft has had a maintain on the melancholy drug marketplace for a while. (Omeletzz/Shutterstock)

“You are studying rather a lot about psychological sickness due to Covid,” Goodman mentioned. “It is factually true. Individuals are extra affected by Covid mentally. However all of this new stuff has nothing to do with Covid. Covid simply occurs to be an occasion that occurred that has elevated the curiosity.”

Although there have not been any new approaches to melancholy remedy in a long time, what has modified is the angle round psychological well being, Sage CEO Greene mentioned. The pandemic helped folks get there.

“Individuals are speaking extra,” he mentioned. “The stigma is being raised. The openness to confront melancholy is growing, whether or not it is postpartum melancholy or main depressive dysfunction.”

Greene went on to say: “Individuals are speaking about it. Providers are being arrange. Telehealth was drastically expanded in the course of the pandemic. So, the stigma round even speaking about it’s beginning to increase.”

Make Or Break For These Biotech Shares?

Although there’s promise for his or her melancholy remedies, the largest biotech shares are beneath stress.

The decline for Biogen inventory started in June 2021 after its controversial Alzheimer’s remedy gained an accelerated FDA approval. Since then, the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Providers determined in opposition to masking that drug for many sufferers. Biogen has now de-emphasized its business efforts.

Shares have solely inched increased since mid-Could, alongside a broader climb for biotech shares. However Biogen inventory continues to be going through a ceiling at its 200-day shifting common, in accordance with

Sage inventory has posted an excellent deeper fallout. Shares started shifting decrease in January 2021 although, like Biogen, started gaining sluggish velocity this Could. Now, Sage inventory is forming a cup base with an entry at 45.84.

Relmada inventory, then again, lately broke out of a deep cup with deal with with a purchase level at 26.29. The biotech inventory has a robust Relative Energy Score of 97 out of a best-possible 99, in accordance with IBD Digital. This places its efficiency among the many prime 3% of all shares when it comes to 12-month efficiency.

Axsome retook each its key shifting common in late June after the corporate mentioned, in a Securities and Trade Fee submitting, that it had settled labeling negotiations for its melancholy remedy with the FDA. The biotech inventory has a robust RS Score of 98.

Comply with Allison Gatlin on Twitter at @IBD_AGatlin.


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