Health & Wellness

A New Drug for Chronic Migraines

US regulators have approved a new drug intended to prevent or reduce the frequency of migraines


By Katrina Caruso


On May 17, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first medication for the prevention of chronic migraines. Aimovig, a monthly injection, was created by Amgen and Novartis. Three other companies—Lilly, Teva, and Alder—have migraine medications in the final stages of FDA approval.

According to Statistics Canada, about 14% of the world’s population experiences migraines and 2.8 million Canadians were diagnosed with migraines in 2010-2011.

Migraines can be seriously debilitating, with the intense pain lasting for hours—accompanied by light sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting—and causing victims to miss days of work or school. Three times as many women are affected as men.

Aimovig will be administered via a device similar to the insulin pen. The annual cost is expected to be around $6,900 USD. While the cost is high, many would consider it worthwhile if it means fewer migraines. The drug is expected to best be suited for serious cases—patients who experience at least 15 migraines a month.

The drug works by blocking a a protein—CGRP—known since the ’80s to be involved in migraines. Many companies have been working since then to develop a cure.

In the three clinical studies that validated the drug, no side effects were reported, although long-term side effects are not yet known. And because nothing is known about the possible effects on a pregnant woman or the fetus (for obvious reasons, drug trials don’t include pregnant women), some doctors are warning against the drug’s use by pregnant women and women of childbearing age.

Prior to Aimovig, medications used to treat migraines were meant for other conditions, such as high blood pressure. The options on the market often come with a number of side effects including fatigue, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain. Due to this, 85% of patients stop taking their medication within the first year of treatment.

Amgen and Novartis have split responsibilities in terms of disseminating and marketing the drug worldwide: Amgen will be focusing its efforts in America, Canada, and Japan, while Novartis will be focusing on the rest of the world.

Photo: iStock/elenaleonova.