There are new migraine drugs on the way, for the first time in decades

Finally, a shot at finding relief.
Finally, a shot at finding relief.
Image: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Scientists are drawing closer to developing new breakthrough drugs that could not only quell migraines when they hit, but prevent them from happening in the first place.

A pair of recently completed, promising, late-stage clinical trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week have presented the possibility that two drugs could make it to market as soon as 2018. The US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency are both expected to review the drugs sometime in the next several months.

That’s great news for anyone who’s suffered from migraines, which are severe headaches often accompanied by nausea, fatigue, and sensitivity to light and sounds.

In one trial, researchers worked with erenumab, a specially-designed protein made in the lab and deployed via injection into the immune system to target specific molecules known to affect migraines. It’s a type of monoclonal antibody, which are lab-made versions of proteins the immune system uses to target different substances in the body.

The study included 955 patients, divided into three groups: the first received 70 mg of erenumab, the second got a 140 mg dose, and the last were given a placebo. Both dosages seemed to work. The study reports that 43.3% of  the 70-mg group and 50% of of 140-mg erenumab group saw their monthly migraines drop about 50%.

The second trial reported in NEJM was for fremanezumab, another monoclonal antibody, similar erenumab, but targeting a different potential cause of migraines. That study involved 1,130 patients, also split into three groups: over a 12-month period, researchers gave quarterly doses of the protein treatment to the first group, monthly doses to the second, and a placebo to the third. Both treatment schedules seemed to work in reducing migraines by 50%.

Both drugs would offer high-tech fixes for a long-time problem, which explains cost projections of $8,500 for a year’s worth of treatment. For some, the steep price will be worth it.

According to Migraine Action, a British public health group, migraines are more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined. A drug of this sort could be transformative for people who suffer from the condition. Currently the only real way to treat migraines are with so-called “rescue” medications, which can relieve some symptoms but only once a migraine is well underway. Some people have turned to anti-epilepsy and blood pressure drugs to try and prevent migraines, though many of those come with side effects, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Migraine is too often trivialized as just a headache when, in reality, it can be a debilitating, chronic condition that can destroy lives,” said Simon Evans, chief executive of Migraine Action, in a statement.