J&J's drug eases depression and insomnia symptoms in late-stage study

A Johnson & Johnson banner is displayed on the front of the NYSE in New York

By Pratik Jain

(Reuters) -Johnson & Johnson's experimental drug helped reduce symptoms of depression as well as insomnia in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) in a late-stage trial, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

The trial was testing the drug, called seltorexant, in patients with both depression and insomnia. Sleep disturbances often accompany depression, despite treatment with commonly-used antidepressant drugs.

In the study, seltorexant met both main and secondary trial goals, showing improvement in depressive symptoms when tested on a scale used to measure the severity of depressive episodes, and also improved sleep disturbance outcomes in patients.

J&J did not disclose the number of patients in the study, but said that the data would be presented at an upcoming meeting.

Seltorexant is one of the 15 assets the New Jersey-based drugmaker bets on for future growth, ahead of looming competition from biosimilars for its blockbuster psoriasis treatment Stelara that are set to enter the market in 2025.

"While we are still waiting for the detailed data for the drug, these initial findings are encouraging and are supportive of J&J's peak annual sales guidance of $1-$5 billion for the drug", Morningstar analyst Damien Conover said in an emailed response.

About 21 million U.S. adults in 2021 had at least one episode of MDD, one of the most common chronic mental disorders characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Globally, roughly 280 million people are affected by the disorder, with about 60% experiencing insomnia symptoms, the company estimated.

Seltorexant works by selectively targeting proteins known as orexin-2 receptors, which play a key role in the body's sleep-wake rhythm.

When the receptors are stimulated for too long, they can lead to excessive release of the stress hormone cortisol, which may contribute to depression and insomnia.

(Reporting by Bhanvi Satija and Pratik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Shilpi Majumdar, Ravi Prakash Kumar and Shailesh Kuber)