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Merck drug suvorexant uses a different approach for curing insomnia

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Merck drug targets chemicals that keep us awake - a new insomnia approach.

A new insomnia drug manufactured by the drug company Merck could offer millions who can’t sleep at night some needed help. The medication, suvorexant, is takes a new approach because it blocks the action of neurotransmitters called orexins that keep us awake.

Drug facilitates sleep with minimal side effects

Initial testing of the novel insomnia medication showed study participants had no serious side effects from taking high doses of the drug, which was compared to placebo and lower doses of the medication in two separate trials.

Compared to study participants who were given a placebo, the suvorexant group reported sleepiness and headache at 3 months. In both trials, a little more than 10% of participants said they were sleepy the next day - 3.4 and 3.1 percent of people given the drug and placebo in trial 1 and 2 respectively.

In the first trial 6.8% of subjects in the study reported headache, compared to 6% given the placebo.

“We specifically focused our research efforts on insomnia because it is an area of significant unmet medical need,” said Darryle D. Schoepp, Ph.D., senior vice president and head of Neuroscience and Ophthalmology franchise in a press release.

The research looked at how long it took the study participants to fall asleep and how much time they spent awake on the first night.

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The insomnia drug led to almost an extra hour of sleep compared to the placebo group (58 minutes) in the first trial. The drug also helped people get to sleep 30.6 minutes faster. In the second trial time to fall asleep was 34.6 minutes faster and sleep time was 63.3 minutes more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), insomnia is considered a publish health epidemic. Inability to fall asleep and stay asleep contributes to a variety of chronic illnesses.

Nearly 30% of adults are getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey, 2005-2007.

Suvorexant isn’t approved yet by the FDA, but if it is, it will mean an entirely new drug approach for treating insomnia that blocks chemicals called orexins that keep us awake. Merck presented their findings at SLEEP 2012, the 26th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. The National Sleep Foundation also has healthy sleep tips for a drug-free approach to getting a good night’s sleep.

June 13, 2012

“Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic”

Image credit: Morguefile