A new migraine drug is set to offer hope for millions of sufferers, it was revealed recently.
In a landmark study, erenumab has been found to cut the number of attacks by half in many cases.
The monthly injection is the first new migraine drug in 20 years.
Developed by UK scientists over the past three decades, it has been submitted for a medical licence in Europe and the US and will be assessed by NHS watchdog NICE in May.
If approved, it is likely to be offered initially to up to half a million patients with the most serious migraines, who have few other treatment options.
Eight million Britons – most of them women – experience migraines, more than the combined number of diabetes, asthma and epilepsy sufferers. Attacks can last up to 72 hours.
Until now there has been no remedy specifically designed to prevent the crippling attacks.
Erenumab, which is self-administered into the thigh or stomach with an injection pen, is the first new treatment since triptans – drugs which ease the symptoms of migraines but not the cause – were developed in 1997.
Patients are often prescribed beta blockers, antidepressants or Botox, which were developed to treat other conditions. Erenumab is the first in a new class of drugs which tackle the protein responsible for the pain and nausea associated with a migraine.
The protein – calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) – causes blood vessels intertwined with nerve endings in the head to swell up. Erenumab contains an antibody that blocks this. Some of the world’s biggest drugs firms have been trying to develop an injection to combat migraines.
Study leader Professor Peter Goadsby of King’s College London, who first highlighted the role of CGRP in migraines in 1985, said: ‘This is an incredibly important step forward.
‘It’s the real deal – next year the NHS will be looking at whether to make this available.’ The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 955 patients who were given erenumab or a placebo – dummy injection – for six months. At the start, participants suffered migraines 8.3 days a month on average.
Within four months, those who took erenumab were experiencing migraines on 3.7 fewer days on average. For those on the placebo it was only 1.8 days.
The drug was remarkably safe, with participants given it reporting fewer side effects than those on the placebo.
Simon Evans, chief executive of Migraine Action, said: ‘Migraine is too often trivialised as just a headache when, in reality, it can be a debilitating, chronic condition that can destroy lives. An option that can prevent migraine and that is well tolerated is therefore sorely needed.
‘We hope that this marks the start of real change in how this condition is treated and perceived.’
Erenumab is made by a partnership between drugs giant Novartis and Amgen. Three other firms – Teva, Eli Lilly and Alder – are developing very similar drugs in a bid to be the first to reach a global market worth an estimated £6.5billion a year.
Erenumab is the first to have final study results published and to submit its findings to the European Medicines Agency and the FDA in the US.
No price has yet been set and the monoclonal antibodies used to make the drug are expensive to produce. But Professor Goadsby hopes NICE will recognise the value of the treatment when it assesses it next year.
Dimitrios Georgiopoulos, chief scientific officer of Novartis UK, said: ‘Erenumab is the most significant breakthrough in this field in 20 years and it is now imperative we continue to work with all parties to make this well-tolerated and effective treatment option for migraine available to those who can benefit from it.’