New drug may curb jet lag

A new and experimental drug called tasimelteon which mimics the hormone melatonin may curb the sleep deprivation effects of jet lag.

The drug studies were jointly undertaken by scientists from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston and Monash University, Australia. The news was first reported in the British journal The Lancet.

Tasimelteon is a drug in development that works on the pineal gland, while another similar drug called Rozerem is already approved to treat insomnia by the FDA.

The pineal gland secretes melatonin, which helps regulate the body’s waking and sleeping cycles or “circadian rhythm” by improving the quality of sleep and dulling the awakening signal in the body clock.

In two clinical trials with 450 volunteers, various doses of tasimelteon were compared to a placebo in healthy adults without chronic sleep problems, and who were regularly getting eight hours of sleep a night.

The trial aimed to analyse the effects of the drug on disrupted circadian rhythm – such as when travelling across time zones or during shift work – which usually causes insomnia when trying to sleep or excessive sleepiness while trying to remain awake, due to the body’s inability to cope with conflicting time signals.

Tasimelteon helped volunteers whose sleep pattern had been delayed by five hours to fall asleep quicker and sleep for longer say the researchers, including Harvard Medical School's Shantha Rajaratnam, PhD.

There were similar side effects between the tasimelteon and placebo groups, but were generally mild and included headache, according to the study, which was funded by tasimelteon's maker, Vanda Pharmaceuticals.

If tasimelteon is approved, it will take at least three more years before it makes it to market.

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