Migraines affect millions of Americans. Although many medications can treat migraines once they occur, there has yet to be to be an effective FDA-approved medication that actually prevents the onset of migraines.
On May 17th, the first medication designed to prevent migraines was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Four more preventative migraine medications are currently in the pipeline.
The drug is called Aimovig and is a monthly injection, similar to an insulin pen or a vivitrol (opioid blocker) shot. The medication will cost $6,900 a year—a relatively costly medication. The price tag calls into question the ethics surrounding an absorbent price tag for a medication designed to alleviate the suffering of millions of people.
The drug manufacturers, Amgen and Novartis, promised that the drug would be available this summer. The drug works by blocking a protein fragment, CGRP, that instigates and perpetuates migraines. It is now being considered the best option for individuals who sufferers from at least 15 migraines per month and who have no other viable alternatives.
“The drugs will have a huge impact,” said Dr. Amaal Starling, a neurologist and migraine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. “This is really an amazing time for my patient population and for general neurologists treating patients with migraine.”
Approximately 2 percent of the global population is affected by chronic migraines. Symptoms far supersede a simple headache. Common physiological effects of migraines include debilitating nausea and vomiting, difficulty speaking and sensory sensitivity. It is the third most common disease in the world and one of the top ten causes of disability. The new drug could help millions of people regain normal levels of function.
Current treatment for migraines is problematic at best. Those medications come with a slew of side effects including mental fogginess, sedation, weight gain, sexual dysfunction and dry mouth. These side effects are so severe that 85% of patients stop taking the medications within a year.
According to a report by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, migraines have a dramatic impact on patients’ lives.
Those who suffer from chronic migraines tend to avoid making commitments or plans, and are less likely to get involved in the workforce. Migraines are often unpredictable—sufferers have no idea when they will occur or how long they will last.
In the report, sufferers indicated that they felt “frustrated, depressed, defeated, isolated” as a result of their chronic condition. Many patients indicated that they felt limited by the stigma surrounding migraines and they often felt isolated from the rest of society. Those patients frequently tried a slew of treatments with very little relief.
While the new medication is extremely promising for so many people, the high cost calls into question the likelihood that all sufferers will be able to afford it. It is unclear whether insurers will pay the high price tag, or that individuals with large deductibles will be able to afford the medication in the first place.