Saturday, October 18, 2014

U.S. FDA approves Merck insomnia drug

By Toni Clarke

WASHINGTON Wed Aug 13, 2014 4:57pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday it has approved a new insomnia drug made by Merck & Co.

The drug, to be called Belsomra, is the first in a new class of sedatives that block chemicals in the brain called orexins that help keep people awake.

Belsomra, known generically as suvorexant, has the potential to cause next-day sleepiness and impaired driving. As a result, the FDA said, no more than one pill should be taken per night and the dose should not exceed 20 milligrams.

The FDA had asked Merck to study the next-day driving performance of people who took the drug amid concerns the sedative could lead to next-day drowsiness.

The test showed impaired driving in patients who took 20 milligrams of the drug. Patients therefore "should be cautioned against next-day driving or activities requiring full mental alertness," the FDA said in a statement.

Even those who take a lower dose should be made aware of the potential for next-day driving impairment because individuals may respond differently to any given drug, the agency said.

The FDA approved the drug in 5,10,15 and 20 milligram doses.

Belsomra is a Schedule IV controlled substance because it can be addictive and has the potential to be abused. Schedule 1 drugs have the greatest potential for abuse while Schedule V drugs have the least potential.

Merck's shares rose 1.4 percent on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday to close at $57.85.

Merck had originally proposed that non-elderly adults start on 20 milligrams and increase to 40 if needed. It recommended that elderly patients start by taking 15 milligrams and increase to 30 if necessary.

FDA officials said at an advisory committee meeting in May 2013 that there was little evidence to show the drug was more effective at higher doses and considerable evidence to show it was less safe.

"Using the lowest effective dose can reduce the risk of side effects, such as next-morning drowsiness," said Dr. Ellis Unger, an official in the FDA's drugs division.

(Reporting by Toni Clarke; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mohammad Zargham)

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