Alumna Shawn Brown Thompson is one of only seven senior therapeutic business specialists for Sage Therapeutics, which just had the first-ever oral pill for postpartum depression approved by the FDA.
When Shawn Brown Thompson ’83 was an undergrad at MBU, she was impressed by the number of adults from the local community who audited classes there, for no other reason than they enjoyed learning new things.
One woman, Cornelia, not only audited a religion class Thompson was taking, but ended up being a great friend, too.
“That was a moment that triggered the idea of being a lifelong learner,” Thompson said. “I feel Mary Baldwin also encouraged such, but Cornelia with her bright red shoes in my religion class made a big impression!”
Since then, Thompson, a biology major, has spent most of her career exploring and learning various subfields in the psychiatric sciences. After a few years with Abbott Labs in their adult nutritional division, Thompson worked with psychiatrists in the neurohealth division of GlaxoSmithKline for 22 years, before moving to the neuroscience division of Japanese pharmaceutical firm Otsuka.
Today, Thompson is one of only seven senior therapeutic business specialists for Sage Therapeutics, which just had the first-ever oral pill for postpartum depression (PPD) approved by the FDA in August of this year. Time Magazine named their drug Zurzuvae as one of the best inventions of 2023.
The new treatment had previously been available only as an intravenous injection.
“We have had the infusion drug to treat postpartum depression,” Thompson said, “but the infusion is a 60-hour inpatient procedure, and it’s not available everywhere in the country.”
Approximately one in every seven women will get a perinatal mood disorder like postpartum depression. Whereas up to 75% of new moms may feel depressed, anxious, or even angry a few days after giving birth — the so-called “baby blues” — they usually go away within a week or so.
However, for more than 10% of mothers, PPD is a serious disease that can last a year after childbirth. It can interfere with a mother’s ability to take care of and bond with her baby, as well as harm the child’s development and safety. In rare cases, new mothers have harmed themselves and sometimes their babies. That’s why it’s so crucial to identify and treat PPD as quickly as possible.
Thompson’s role at Sage is to help do just that — increase awareness about postpartum depression, urging clinicians to screen for and identify mothers who might be suffering from it. Once identified, Thompson is also involved in letting them know what the treatment options are.
Similar to her friend Cornelia so many years ago, Thompson’s own predilection for lifelong learning has led her from one interesting opportunity to the next throughout her career — and Sage Therapeutics’ pioneering treatment for PPD is among them.
“When I was working with the injectable antipsychotics for Otsuka, I thought that was very interesting,” Thompson said, “but one day I was just reading online about new therapies and what’s going on in psychiatry, and I came across this drug for postpartum depression.”
“And I’m like, oh, my gosh, that’s an area no one’s touched,” Thompson added. “That’s going to be my job — no one knows psychiatry like I do in Oklahoma.”
Thompson immediately started networking via social media, reaching out to a woman who had just been hired by Sage Therapeutics, and they became fast friends.
When the woman left Sage a couple of years later during the COVID pandemic, Thompson contacted the company again, gained an interview, and secured her position as senior therapeutic business specialist.
Sage Therapeutics’ oral pill, Zurzuvae, will be available beginning in December 2023, and Thompson is both relieved that the treatment will be more widely available and excited that she gets to continue and educate and advocate for even more new mothers.
“My position to represent the first oral treatment to treat postpartum depression is an opportunity to educate clinicians and increase awareness about an under-diagnosed and often misunderstood condition,” Thompson said. “And like its infusion predecessor, this product will be life-changing for appropriate moms and their families.”