Around 8.5 million people in Britain suffer migraines, and there are 200,000 attacks every day in the UK. Symptoms can be so severe that lying in a darkened room is the only relief for the throbbing pain and nausea.
However the new drug, called Erenumab, appears to slash in half the number of days lost to the condition for many patients, a breakthrough which charities said marked ‘the start of a real change’ for sufferers.
Dr Peter Goadsby, Professor of Neurology at King’s College London, who led the Phase III clinical trial, said: “It clearly shows that blocking this pathway can reduce the impact of migraine.
“The results represent a real transition for migraine patients from poorly understood, repurposed treatments, to a specific migraine-designed therapy.
“It represents an incredibly important step forward for migraine understanding and migraine treatment.”
Migraine usually involves severe head pain and often brings symptoms including nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound. It affects one in every five women and around one in every 15 men. Around half of all sufferers have a close relative with the condition, suggesting that it may be genetic.
The World Health Organisation rates migraine as one of the top 10 causes of disability, costing the UK economy £2.25 billion per year in lost work days, yet there are currently few treatments. The NHS recommends darkness, or taking over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Sufferers may also be prescribed triptans which halt discomfort by relieving swelling and narrowing blood vessels or beta blockers such as propranolol as a preventative measure, but they can leave patients feeling fatigued and are not always effective.
Yet there are currently no drugs to specifically prevent migraine from happening.
The new treatment is an antibody designed to block the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) receptor in the brain, which plays a crucial role in sparking a migraine.
CGRP is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, which instructs the brain to activate sensory nerves in the head and neck.
Previous research found that CGRP is present in unusually high levels during a migraine attack, which is thought to cause overstimulation.
The latest trial involved 955 patients who received a monthly injection of the drug, or placebo, over 24 weeks.
On average patients injected with Erenumab experienced three fewer migraine days each month compared to their usual average of eight days. For 50 per cent of patients their number of attacks was cut in half.
Patients treated with the drug also reported improved physical health and ability to participate in daily activities over the six month trial period as well.
Novartis, the company which makes the drug, has now applied for a license from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and is expecting a decision next year. If approved the treatment would then go before the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) who would decide if it represents value for money for the NHS.
“Migraine is too often trivialised as just a headache when, in reality, it can be a debilitating, chronic condition that can destroy lives” said Simon Evans, Chief Executive of the charity Migraine Action.
“The effects can last for hours – even days in many cases. An option that can prevent migraine and that is well tolerated is therefore sorely needed and we hope that this marks the start of real change in how this condition is treated and perceived.”
The trial results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.