Could a monthly injection halve the number of migraines patients suffer?
A promising new study presented at the American Academy of Neurology on Tuesday suggests that’s the case. It’s welcome news for migraine sufferers, who are often bedridden for days due to pounding, debilitating headaches that bring on nausea, vomiting, and light and sound sensitivity. According to the American Headache Society, four million Americans suffer from chronic migraines each month that last between 10 days to a full two weeks.
With the injection, however, patients could see a significant increase in quality of life, as it may shorten the length of migraines and salvage a sense of normalcy for patients.
Here’s how it works: A synthetic antibody called erenumab is injected monthly. Erenumab’s superpower? It blocks calcitonin gene-related peptide, or CGRP, a neural pathway that sends pain signals to the brain during a migraine. Erenumab’s role is to stop CGRP from sending that signal, quashing it before the start of a migraine.
It’s a huge leap in the field of migraine research, which has seen practically no advances in the past 20 years. Mild migraine sufferers pop ibuprofin to help quell the throbbing pain, while those with stronger migraines often resort to prescriptions like ergotamine and sumatripin, which attempt to ease migraines by constricting neural blood vessels, but have the unfortunate side effect of vertigo. Botox, too, has been shown to help ease migraines by relaxing muscles that could constrict during an attack, though the muscle relaxant is expensive and has its own list of side effects.
Erenumab, however, could both reverse that stagnation in research—and offer patients a remedy without the nasty side effects typically associated with migraine pain reducers.
In November, preliminary research was published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicating that in doses as small as 70 mg or 140 mg, patients experienced a reduction in migraines—without side effects. The study, led by Peter Goasby, a professor of neurology at Kings College London and the University of California, San Francisco, seemed to offer a revolutionary way to treat migraines using a targeted treatment.
“This is the first-ever mechanism specific migraine drug designed for prevention,” Goadsby told NBC. “This will change migraine treatment for those who don’t respond to conventional treatments.”
Phase III trials on about 1,000 subjects are complete now, and seem to indicate that erenumab can reduce three to four migraine days per month simply by blocking the CGRP neural pathway. Half of trial participants reported that they saw the number of migraines they endured monthly cut by 50 percent.
And it’s not far away from becoming available, as there are already plans for it to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May this year under a patent owned by the drug company Novartis. How much will it set patients back, though? About $10,000 a year—making it financially prohibitive for many migraine sufferers.
But the targeted treatment—with its lack of adverse side effects and strong performance in delivering relief—suggests that hope is on the horizon for many who have endured debilitating migraines for years.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the injections are given monthly, not weekly as originally reported. We apologize for the error.