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New experimental drug helps insomniacs fall asleep faster and for longer, trials find

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US-based pharmaceutical giant Merck announced some good news for insomniacs Wednesday, with trials of a new experimental drug helping patients fall asleep faster and for longer, the company said.

The drug, suvorexant, was tested over a three-month period in two trials on more than 1,000 patients suffering insomnia and the results were revealed at a Boston sleep conference Wednesday.

At the three-month mark in the first trial, those taking suvorexant said it reduced the time it took them to fall asleep by 25.7 minutes, compared with 17.3 minutes for those in the trial taking a placebo.

They also slept 60.3 minutes longer compared to before they started taking suvorexant. Patients on the placebo slept 40.6 minutes longer.

The second trial also found suvorexant helped patients sleep longer but the speed at which they fell asleep was not statistically significant compared to those taking a placebo.

Suvorexant opens a new category of sleep drugs by targeting and blocking orexins, chemical messengers that originate from the hypothalamus, an important sleep center in the brain, that help to keep you alert and awake.

The company said no serious adverse events were reported by patients taking a high dose of suvorexant. About 10 percent of patients on the drug reported sleepiness as an adverse event, while about seven percent reported headaches.

Merck said it plans to apply for US Food and Drug Administration approval for suvorexant later this year.

If approved, suvorexant would be the first medicine approved in a new class of medicines, called orexin receptor antagonists, the company said.

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