About two percent of the world’s population experiences migraines. In the United States alone, about 37 million Americans cope with regular migraines. In some cases, they can be so debilitating that people are forced to stay out of the workforce. But the Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug that may provide relief for people who suffer from severe migraines.
Aimovig, made by Amgen and Novartis, is a monthly injection—not that different from an insulin pen. It works by blocking a molecule on a cell’s surface where CGRP, a protein fragment, must attach in order to work.
But knowledge of this compound isn’t new. Since the 1980s, researchers have known about CGRP’s role in migraines. They discovered it dilated blood vessels and transmitted signals between nerves. Here’s Gina Kolata reporting for The New York Times :
Eventually, a fuller picture emerged: People who get migraines seem to make too much CGRP.
When investigators infused CGRP into people prone to migraines, they got headaches. When they gave the molecule to people who do not get migraines, it usually did not instigate one.
The new drug is intended to treat the 2.8 million Americans that experience multiple debilitating migraines a month. And it’s not just headaches. Other migraine symptoms include nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, and aversion to light and noise. Aimovig doesn’t prevent migraine attacks, but it makes them less severe and reduces their frequency by 50% or more.
Until now, available migraine medication was intended to treat other diseases like high blood pressure. But it wasn’t very effective and would only work temporarily. Of the patients seeking medication, 85% would stop taking them within a year because of the intolerable side effects.
During clinical trials, patients consuming Aimovig reported no more side effects than those taking a placebo. However, long-term side effects are yet to be determined. Three more treatments—Lilly, Teva, and Alder—are in the final stages and also awaiting FDA approval.