The US FDA on Wednesday approved a new type of drug for insomnia, called Belsroma. Last year, a lengthy investigative report in The New Yorker provided an inside look into the science and marketing of Belsroma (or suvorexant) and its enormously popular competitor Ambien, in part through interviews with the drug company scientists who were trying to persuade the FDA to approve suvorexant. The FDA reportedly considered the addictive suvorexant only to be sufficiently safe at dosage levels which the company found to be ineffective. Nevertheless, the article suggested Belsroma could become an immediate “blockbuster” in sales. “How successfully can a pharmaceutical giant — through advertising and sales visits to doctors’ offices — sell a drug at a dose that has been repeatedly described as ineffective by the scientists who developed it?” asked The New Yorker.
“Instead of promoting general, stupefying brain inactivity, suvorexant aims at standing in the way of a keep-awake signal,” explained The New Yorker. “This difference may or may not come to mean a lot to insomniacs, but Merck’s marketing is likely to encourage the perception that suvorexant ends the dance by turning off the music, whereas a drug like Ambien knocks the dancer senseless.”
FDA approves new type of sleep drug, Belsomra (US FDA Press Release, August 13, 2014)
The Big Sleep (The New Yorker, December 9, 2013)