The Food and Drug Administration approved the first medication designed specifically to treat migraine headaches on Thursday, according to the New York Times. The approval represents a landmark development for treating debilitating migraine headaches.
One in seven people worldwide suffer from migraine headaches, including 20 percent of all women and 10 percent of men. 37 million Americans experience migraines. For many, these headaches render them disabled and unable to lead normal lives. In fact, migraines are among the top ten causes of disability in the world, with painful headaches that are often accompanied by nausea, light sensitivity, and visual problems.
Yet, until Thursday, drugs used by doctors to treat migraines were originally designed to treat unrelated conditions such as high blood pressure. They often fail entirely to eliminate migraines for some patients, work only briefly, or cause unacceptable side effects.
The new drug is called Aimovig, and was developed by Amgen and Novartis. The medication comes in the form of an injection, similar to an insulin pen, taken monthly. The list price for the drug is $6,900 per year of treatment, considerably lower than the $10,000 or more that some analysts had expected. However, the high price of drugs in the US has increasingly been a focus for controversy, and Amgen will offer programs to help some patients with the cost of the drug.
Aimovig works by blocking a “calcitonin gene–related peptide,” called CGRP, that has been linked to migraines, according to NPR. Scientists first began reporting in the 1980s that people suffering from migraines were found to have higher levels of CGRP. In studies, patients susceptible to migraines developed the headaches when injected with the peptide. Since then, researchers have worked toward antibodies to block CGRP activity in the body. Other companies, such as Teva, Alder, and Lilly, have similar medications in development.
In one study of the new drug, patients who had been experiencing eight migraines each month suffered five or fewer monthly migraines once they began taking Aimovig.
Darmouth neurology professor Dr. Stewart J. Tepper, who has consulted with the companies developing such drugs, said:
“For now, they look fantastic. They shake the ground under our feet. They will change the way we treat migraine.”
Side effects of the drug were mild in the studies, although longer-term observation will be necessary to determine any effects that may arise in the long run.
The drug could be put on the market within a week, according to Amgen.