Drugs show promise in reducing migraines
New, long-acting drugs may hold hope for millions of people who suffer frequent migraines. Studies of two of these medicines, given as shots every month or so, found they cut the frequency of the notoriously painful and disabling headaches.
The drugs are the first preventive medicines developed specifically for migraines.
“It’s a whole new direction” for treatment and an important advance for people who don’t want to take or aren’t helped by the daily pills sometimes used now to prevent recurrences, said Dr. Andrew Hershey, neurology chief at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
He had no role in the research but has tested other migraine drugs and wrote a commentary published with the studies Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.
One study tested erenumab, from Amgen and Novartis, in about 900 people who averaged eight migraines a month. For six months, they were given monthly shots into the abdomen of a high dose of the drug, a low dose or a dummy medicine. The number of days they suffered migraines each month dropped by three to four in the drug groups and nearly two in the placebo group. Half of the patients on the higher dose saw their migraine days cut at least in half.
The second study tested fremanezumab, from Teva Pharmaceutical, for chronic migraine, defined as headaches on 15 or more days per month, at least eight of them migraines. About 1,000 patients were given monthly shots for three months: One third got the drug each time, another third got the drug the first time and then dummy shots the next two times, and the rest got dummy shots each time.
Monthly headache days dropped by four to five in the groups given the drug and by two to three for those given dummy treatments.
“There are some patients who have had a complete response — they become headache-free,” Hershey said.
No worrisome side effects emerged, but the studies were very short, so long-term safety and effectiveness are unknown.
Both drugs have been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.
Many study leaders work for or have other financial ties to the drugmakers, and the companies helped analyze results.