Pharmaceutical manufacturers released a number of new prescription drugs in 2015. Some of these new drugs are truly lifesavers . . . and some aren’t. Either way, pharmaceutical companies will be spending lots of money to let you know about them—you’ll be seeing them on the sides of buses and in TV commercials for quite a while.
As a doctor, I’m always excited about improvements that help patients. Some of the drugs below can really make a difference. Some, however, are simply more convenient or have slightly fewer side effects. Be warned that all of them will be very expensive—if you’re interested, you may want to seek out manufacturer discounts which can offset their high cost.
Here are 10 drugs that made a splash in 2015.
1. Brintellix (depression). Brintellix is a new antidepressant that doesn’t fit squarely into the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) category. It is also a serotonin agonist, meaning it acts like serotonin, so it’s considered a “novel antidepressant.” Many generic, affordable antidepressants work well so this one is having a hard time gaining traction.
The bottom line: Head-to-head comparisons of Brintellix against generic Cymbalta (duloxetine) showed Brintellix (vortioxetine) performs slightly better. Brintellix’s strength is that it has been shown to improve cognitive function (memory and critical thinking) in folks with depression.
2. Vraylar (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia). Vraylar is approved for mania associated with bipolar disorder, and for schizophrenia. We aren’t really sure how this medication works but it is a partial dopamine and serotonin agonist, and seems to work better than a placebo for both conditions.
The bottom line: Vraylar (cariprazine) is long acting—really long acting. The active ingredient has a clearance half-time of one to three weeks, meaning it will take that long after your last dose before it loses half of its effectiveness. The longer clearance time gives Vraylar stable levels with once-daily dosing.
The bottom line: Tresiba (insulin degludec) provides a long duration of action (longer than 40 hours) and has little variability with its once daily dosing, so it delivers a nice steady dose. Unlike Lantus and Levemir, the other long-acting insulins, Tresiba can be mixed with rapid-acting insulins without altering the effects of either. Ryzodeg will be a combination insulin that takes advantage of this.
4. Varubi (chemotherapy-related nausea). Varubi is a new medication used for the treatment of nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. A member of a new class of drugs, Varubi (rolapitant) is a long-acting neurokinin receptor blocker—it blocks the receptors located in the “vomiting” center of the brain.
The bottom line: When taken with another medication like Zofran (ondansetron), it works better than each taken alone. Varubi is taken by mouth an hour before chemo and prevents not only immediate nausea and vomiting from chemo, but delayed vomiting as well. This drug will be an important player.
The bottom line: Nothing much new to get excited about here, but Evekeo (amphetamine sulfate) can be used to treat obesity at doses of 30 mg a day and is longer-acting, allowing for once daily dosing.
6. Enstilar (psoriasis). Enstilar is a combination topical medication for psoriasis. It’s made up of a corticosteroid (betamethasone) and a Vitamin D analog (calcipotriene). Vitamin D analogs work as immunomodulators (they control your immune response) and reduce inflammation on the skin.
The bottom line: Enstilar will be available as a spray foam. This will allow you to treat large areas of plaque from psoriasis. More than half of patients who used it had clear skin in 4 weeks. Another important player.
7. Synjardy (diabetes). Synjardy is yet another new combination pill used for the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. Synjardy combines the sodium glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor Jardiance (empagliflozin) with Glucophage (metformin, which has been around forever). It’s the third medication approved that contains Jardiance.
The bottom line: Jardiance, one of the active ingredients, is the only diabetes medication shown in studies to significantly reduce both cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular death.
8. Repatha (high cholesterol). Repatha is a new injectable medication used every 2 to 4 weeks in people with inherited forms of high cholesterol that are not well controlled on statin medications. Repatha (evolocumab) is a human monoclonal antibody that binds to something called PCSK9—this helps break down LDL cholesterol in your liver.
The bottom line: Repatha is the first monoclonal antibody approved to lower LDL cholesterol and it’s only used once or twice a month as an injection.
9. Savaysa (stroke prevention, atrial fibrilation, DVT). Savaysa will join Eliquis and Xarelto as yet another approved factor Xa inhibitor blood thinner indicated for stroke prevention in high-risk patients with atrial fibrillation and for the treatment and prevention of deep-venous thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).
The bottom line: Savaysa (edoxaban) is used once daily, but there isn’t much else to separate it from Xarelto or Eliquis. Savaysa and the other Xa inhibitors are much more convenient than warfarin (Coumadin) though, and don’t require the frequent blood test monitoring.
10. Addyi (female sexual dysfunction). Not yet available in pharmacies, Addyi (flibanserin) works as a serotonin agonist and antagonist is used to improve sexual desire in women. Daily use results in modest increases in the frequency of sexually satisfying events and sexual desire. The role of Addyi in women’s lives may be limited as it has to be taken daily and has frequent side effects of sleepiness and dizziness.
The bottom line: It’s the first and only drug approved to improve sexual desire in women.