A self-injected drug could free people from the misery of migraines by halving the number of headaches.
Migraines affect around one in seven people, who are forced to try everything from lying down in a dark room for hours to being sick and taking painkillers.
The condition, which causes severe thunderclap headaches, affects three times as many women as men.
Now a trial has found a drug which blocks pain signals in the brain can drastically reduce the number of migraine episodes.
After three months, 30 per cent of almost 250 people treated with erenumab halved the number of headaches they suffered, compared to 14 per cent of those given a dummy drug.
Dr Mark Toms, chief scientific officer at Novartis UK, said: ‘There has been no real advancement in migraine treatment for the past 20 years and we’re proud to be breaking new ground’.
It is estimated people in the UK lose 25 million days from work or school each year due to migraines.
A self-injected drug could free people from migraines, halving headache numbers (stock)
The pain of migraine
- Migraines are caused by a complex neurological condition which can affect the whole body – causing crippling headaches, nausea, blackouts, vomiting and even paralysis.
- Roughly 8.5million people in Britain suffer from migraines, three quarters of them women, with attacks lasting between four and 72 hours.
- Sufferers experience an average of 13 attacks each year, usually in clusters or episodes of a few days.
- But for about half a million people – those with ‘chronic migraines’ – the attacks come at least every other day.
- Migraines are the sixth most common cause of disability around the world, and are strongly linked to depression and work absenteeism.
- Current drugs include Triptans – which deal with the symptoms but not the cause – but if they are taken too often they actually increase the frequency of attacks.
- Other treatments which ward off attacks are all designed for other conditions – such as botox, epilepsy medicines and beta blockers for heart disease.
- The new drug works in a completely different way – attacking the cause of migraines by stopping a protein which causes blood vessels to swell in the brain.
Worked on patients who failed up to four treatments
The drug, administered with a self-injection device similar to those used by diabetics, was tested on patients who had failed to respond to up to four other treatments.
Study leader Dr Uwe Reuter, from The Charite-University Medicine Berlin in Germany, said: ‘The people we included in our study were considered more difficult to treat, meaning that up to four other preventative treatments hadn’t worked for them.
‘Our study found that erenumab reduced the average number of monthly migraine headaches by more than 50 per cent for nearly a third of study participants.
‘That reduction in migraine headache frequency can greatly improve a person’s quality of life.’
Dr Toms added: ‘There has been no real advancement in migraine treatment for the past 20 years and we’re proud to be breaking new ground in neurology for the millions of people in the UK living with the painful and disruptive symptoms of migraine.’
Migraine days went from nine to four a month
There are more than 190,000 migraine attacks a day in the UK and the condition often starts during puberty, most affecting those aged 35 to 45.
The neurological disorder causes headaches that range in severity from moderate to blindingly painful, with other symptoms including nausea and light sensitivity. Attacks can last anything from four hours to three days.
While most people with migraines are forced to rely on over-the-counter painkillers or drugs called triptans which narrow blood vessels in the brain, the latest study gave 246 migraine sufferers 140mg injections of erenumab or a dummy drug once a month for three months.
Of the participants, 39 per cent had been treated unsuccessfully with two other medications, 38 per cent with three medications and 23 per cent with four medications.
The preliminary study involved people who suffered an average of nine migraine headaches a month.
This was reduced to four and a half days or less on average in 30 per cent of those on erenumab, who also spent fewer days suffering from migraines and taking drugs to stop their headaches.
Migraines affect around one in seven people, who are forced to try everything from lying down in a dark room for hours to being sick and taking painkillers to relieve their agony (stock)
No safety concerns
Erenumab blocks pain signals by targeting a receptor in the brain, preventing a protein which transmits migraine pain from working as it should.
The drug was found to be as safe as the dummy drug, with no one stopping the drug during the trial due to side effects.
Erenumab is marketed by the global drug company Novartis, which helped to fund the study, and is not yet licensed for use in the UK.