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The FDA approved a new treatment for schizophrenia. Getty Images
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a transdermal patch sold under the brand name Secuado.
  • The patch is a formulation of the atypical antipsychotic asenapine.
  • Treating schizophrenia with a patch instead of a pill may make it easier for people to follow their medication plan.

The FDA approved the first patch to treat schizophrenia.

The transdermal patch is a formulation of the atypical antipsychotic asenapine, which is sold under the brand name Secuado and manufactured by Noven Pharmaceuticals.

The patch is applied once daily to provide equal concentrations of the medication over a 24-hour span.

“As people living with schizophrenia cycle through treatments, their therapeutic options narrow, leaving them and their caregivers looking for new treatment options,” Dr. Leslie Citrome, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, said in a statement.

“In addition to offering a new delivery option, transdermal patches can also provide caretakers and healthcare providers with a nonintrusive, visual confirmation that a treatment is being utilized,” Citrome said.

The transdermal application of the medication was demonstrated in an international double-blind, placebo-controlled study. It involved testing the medication on 616 people with schizophrenia.

Weight gain, application site reaction, and extrapyramidal disorders (tremors and other movement impairments) were the most common side effects.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that can disrupt thoughts and emotional responses, affect perceptions, and impact social interactions. It presents with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, unusual thoughts, as well as other symptoms.

Schizophrenia affects about 1.1 percent of all people across the globe, the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of Americareports.

“The development of this patch is possibly a modest advance in the treatment of schizophrenia,” said Dr. David Brendel, a psychiatrist from Massachusetts.

The patch may raise the likelihood of treatment adherence for a subset of people who don’t want to take pills daily or get a long-acting injectable.

But it’s unlikely it can substantially improve treatment adherence overall. Unlike an injectable that can last 2 to 4 weeks, people can still decide on a daily basis to end their treatment, Brendel says.

Asenapine has a similar risk versus benefit profile as the other atypical antipsychotics that are available, he notes.

The patch could lead to fewer side effects since it bypasses the gut, which could be helpful for some people who experience gastrointestinal symptoms when on the medication.

Also, those who find a pill or injection invasive may be more likely to stick with using the patch.

Dr. Jonathan R. Stevens, an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, was eager to hear about the patch and says it could help people receive treatment.

Medication adherence is a challenge for a variety of chronic conditions, and psychiatric disorders are no exception, he told Healthline.

Some people have challenges swallowing pills, or dislike the sensations that come with taking them.

For those people, having the medication go through the skin could be an improvement, Stevens says. It can also make asenapine available to those who have gastrointestinal issues when they take it in pill form.

Stevens also likes that the patch can be put somewhere on the body, so a parent or doctor can check that it’s being used.

“For some of my patients with schizophrenia, it’s [difficult] to tell if they’ve taken their medication or not when they’re not [doing] well,” he said.

This is also the first medicine for schizophrenia available in patch form — something that, if received well, could trigger other advancements in transdermal applications.

“New additions like this create excitement,” Stevens added.

While antipsychotics such as asenapine can do well at treating symptoms such as delusions and racing thoughts, there are no licensed drugs for helping with lack of motivation, or anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure.

The researchers found that there’s lower opioid receptor availability in people with schizophrenia, which could lead to new treatment pathways.