Migraines are not only unpleasant; they can be downright debilitating. Until now, how you treat migraines is mostly with abortive medications that are taken once migraine symptoms begin, preventative treatments such as medications approved for other disorders (like seizures), and BOTOX for migraines. But now the FDA just approved a drug to prevent migraines, the New York Times reports, and it sounds like the elusive unicorn migraineurs have been looking for. Aimovig is the first drug that has been developed to prevent migraines, and it could be a lifeline for people who've tried everything and still suffer from this neurological disorder.
"For years, the migraine community has been advocating for new treatment options that are specifically designed to treat migraine, a debilitating and often stigmatized disease," Kevin Lenaburg, executive director of the Coalition For Headache And Migraine Patients, said in a press release. "Today we celebrate the tireless work of researchers to better understand the biology of migraine and their ability to bring a new therapeutic approach to the millions of Americans who are seeking fewer migraine days."
If you suffer from migraines, then you know how awful they can be. It's difficult to make plans because you don't know if you'll be well enough to keep your commitments. What's more, managing your triggers in places where you can't control your environment means never leaving the house without an arsenal of remedies you can turn to when a migraine strikes. And, no matter how prepared you are with your abortive meds, peppermint stick, instant ice packs, sunglasses and earplugs, sometimes there is no way to stop a migraine attack.
Even more frustrating is the fact that sometimes you have no choice but to push forward even though it feels like your head is repeatedly being stabbed with an ice pick, sunlight is akin to razors slicing your eyes, and you're struggling not to throw up. For many migraineurs, this is the norm, and it can significantly affect quality of life and contribute to anxiety and depression.
"Migraine is a serious neurological disease that has dramatic effects on patients’ lives," Sean E. Harper, M.D., executive vice president of research and development at Amgen, said in a press release. "Migraine patients experience excruciating headache pain, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, and many live in constant dread of the next attack." Because migraine is an invisible disease, non-migraineurs have a hard time understanding just how debilitating it can be — it's not just a headache. Imagine the worst headache you've ever had and multiply it by 100. But, help is on the way, and Aimovig could be available to the public in as little as a week.
"In addition to bringing a new therapeutic option to patients in the U.S., Amgen also has a commitment to reshape the public’s perception of this stigmatized disease," Anthony C. Hooper, executive vice president of global commercial operations at Amgen, said in a press release. "We have pledged a mission to help change misconceptions, stereotyping, and even judgment that people with migraine face on a daily basis. Through educational programs and initiatives, we hope to promote more meaningful connectivity and dialogue among patients, physicians, employers, and payers."
Aimovig is a monthly self injection designed to block the calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor thought to contribute to migraines. In clinical trials it resulted in significant reductions in monthly migraine days and use of acute migraine medications compared to placebo. While long-term use of the drug is not yet known, most migraineurs will welcome any solution that will stop the pain.
"In difficult-to-treat populations — those with episodic migraine who have failed two-to-four prior treatments — showed that patients taking Aimovig had nearly three-fold higher odds of having their migraine days cut by half or more compared to placebo," the press release explained.
While this is all good news, the out-of-pocket price for Aimovig is $575 a month. There is an Aimovig Co-Pay Program that can help reduce costs to as little $5 per month for eligible patients with commercial insurance. This means that if you have your health insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act, it might be more difficult to get coverage. In general, getting insurance companies to cover pricey migraine treatments, like BOTOX, requires a lot of hoop-jumping, and it can be a long anxiety-ridden process.
Despite these hurdles, the fact this drug exists at all is a reason to believe that an end to migraines could someday be a reality. "I am just so hopeful about this new medication," Dr. Laura Greer, a pediatrician in Etna, N.H. who participated in a clinical trial, told the New York Times, which noted that Dr. Greer is concerned about the drug's price and whether or not her insurer will pay for it. One of the reasons Aimovig is so attractive is because current preventative treatments come with a host of unpleasant side effects, such as having trouble recalling words, which is why I don't take one.
However, Dr. Stewart J. Tepper, professor of neurology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School who is treating Dr. Greer, said in a press release that this is not the case with Aimovig. "Importantly, in clinical trials, Aimovig patients were able to start and stay on therapy — with a discontinuation rate of two percent due to adverse events — and experienced sustained migraine prevention."
Additionally, the Times noted that other drug companies are testing similar medications, which means migraineurs could soon have more options. In short, it looks like there might finally be a light at the end of the dark-and-twisty-migraine tunnel, and this feels like nothing short of a miracle.