Newly tested drugs could cut monthly migraines by half: study

The differences between a migraine and a headache
WATCH: The differences between a migraine and a headache

Two recent studies have shown a new long-acting drug could be beneficial for people who deal with monthly migraines.

The findings, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, could be a sign of hope for millions of people worldwide.

“The [study] represents the culmination of almost two decades of research attempts to create ‘designer’ drugs for the prevention of migraine,” says Dr. Jonathan Gladstone, consultant neurologist and headache specialist at Sick Kids Headache Clinic in Toronto. “Migraine specialists and migraine sufferers around the world are anxiously awaiting the approval of these exciting new medications.”

Dr. Christine Lay, director of the Centre for Headache at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto adds most migraine patients suffer frequent attacks, and have never been offered preventative therapy or been unable to persevere with therapy due to their side effects.

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“The new ground-breaking migraine prevention therapies offer enormous hope for patients for a better future, as these drugs have excellent tolerability, but more importantly, significant benefit and fast onset of reduction in migraine burden.”

READ MORE: How will end of Daylight Saving Time impact your headaches and migraines?

The research

One of the studies tested erenumab, from companies Amgen and Novartis, on about 900 people who had an average of eight migraines a month. Half of these participants have tried other migraine-related medicines.

Over a six-month period, participants were given monthly shots of erenumab in their abdomen in a high dose, low dose or as a placebo.

The number of migraines participants suffered each month dropped by three to four in the drug category, and nearly two in the placebo group. Half of the patients who were taking a higher dose of the drug saw their migraine experiences cut in half.

WATCH: The difference between migraines and headaches
The difference between migraines and headaches
The difference between migraines and headaches

Anne Vickers, a study participant who got the lower dose of the drug, told the Associated Press she “definitely benefited.”

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“I can have anywhere from 15 to 18 headaches per month, and probably five of those days are migraines,” but that dropped 40 per cent on the drug, she continued. “I have three kids, so for me, it meant having more days when I was able to live my everyday life, cook a meal at home, go to events at school.”

The second study looked at the drug fremanezumab from Teva Pharmaceutical and tested people with chronic migraines — anyone who suffered headaches more than 15 days per month, with eight of them being migraines.

About 1,000 participants were included in this study over a period of three months. Researchers note one-third of the group had the full dosage, another third got the drug once followed by a placebo, and the last group of participants only got placebos.

In this study, researchers note monthly migraines dropped by four to five in those who took a full drug dosage, and two to three for those only taking placebos.

“We all sincerely hope that these new medications will be approved in a timely manner by Health Canada and that health benefit plans will cover the new medications for appropriate individuals with frequent and disabling migraines,” Gladstone tells Global News.

And including placebos was important for study, says researcher Dr. Peter J. Goadsb of King’s College Hospital in London.

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“Migraine is a condition that varies with time; the placebo takes account of this to be sure that the effect of the treatment is not just random variation, and it is not,” he tells Global News via email.

Understanding migraines

Gladstone adds migraines are often overlooked, and historically were believed to be a condition in neurotic women rather than a true neurobiologic disorder.

“Migraines have been described to afflict individuals for over 2,000 years, but it is only in the last few decades that huge advances have occurred in our understanding of the biology and science of migraine … leading to increased recognition of the legitimacy of migraine and a true disabling neurologic condition.”

A migraine is quite different from a typical headache. Besides the potentially severe intensity of it, migraine sufferers can experience significant nausea, vomiting, an intolerance of lights, noise, smells, and motion, Gladstone says.

Migraines can affect an individual’s ability to concentrate and can be associated with an intense desire to sleep.

READ MORE: Food triggers for migraine headaches

“The World Health Organization recognizes migraines as one of the most disabling conditions and a top three cause of days of life lost due to disability.”

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It is estimated 14 per cent of the world’s population have suffered a migraine at some point in their life, Statistics Canada notes, while 2.7 million Canadians reported migraines in 2010/2011.

Gladstone says for some people, migraines can progress into a chronic migraine and can last anywhere from 15 to 30 days a month.

“This can have devastating effects on family life and on individuals ability to work and care for their family.”

Moving forward

Currently, treatment for migraines is divided into lifestyle strategies and non-pharmacologic strategies, Gladstone continues.

Sufferers are told to maintain a consistent bedtime, wake time, consume regular meals, avoid caffeine and exercise regularly. They also have the options of massages, acupuncture, biofeedback, neutraceutical supplements and Botox injections to help with the pain.

READ MORE: How Botox is helping ease migraine pain 

“The difference between the newly studied medications and currently available options are that the currently available options were not created/designed for migraine and they just happen to work in some but not all migraine sufferers,” he says.

“The current medications have a range of potential undesirable side effects including fatigue, weight gain[and] cognitive slowing.”
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With files from the Associated Press