Health and Science

New drugs may stop migraines before they start

Lauren Dunn and Parminder Deo
VBaleha | iStock 360 | Getty Images

For 63-year-old Lynn Kaufman, the battle against migraines consumed her life. Since she was 12-years-old, she'd experienced paralyzing pain three to four times a week — each year worse than the one before.

"It felt as though my head was a cement block," Kaufman told NBC News. "It hurt to move my head from side to side; my tongue felt heavy, my eyes hurt, my sense of smell was off. My entire head throbbed and stung."

Kaufman, who lives in Los Angeles, visited dozens of doctors, trying every option, including pain clinics, holistic remedies, Botox shots, and even hypnotherapy. Nothing helped.

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Finally, Kaufman met neurologist Dr. David Kudrow in Santa Monica, California, enrolling in one of his clinical trials for people with headache disorders.

Kudrow is one of hundreds of doctors investigating a new class of drugs that block calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a molecule that spikes during a migraine attack. The aim of the medication is to stop a migraine before it even starts.

"If we can block CGRP, then we can abort a migraine attack," says Kudrow. "It's not a pill, it's an injection that stays in the system for a long period of time and is continuously blocking that CGRP mechanism of migraine."

Results from several pharmaceutical trials are expected either later this year or in early 2018. If approved by the FDA, the drug could be available in 2018.

However, the price tag could be as much as $10,000 a year.

According to USCF Medical Center, more than 35 million Americans suffer from migraine attacks. About 4 million sufferers have chronic migraine, with headaches for 10 to 14 days a month. Most migraines are benign, although they can be disabling. While some people are helped by over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, others need prescription medications that may cause side effects, such as dizziness.

Kudrow says that there is a reduction in the frequency and intensity of the headaches for a large number of his patients taking the new class of drugs, but not all. Another advantage: it could lead to a decrease in the amount of medications used by patients to handle headaches acutely.

Preliminary studies sponsored by one drug maker shows patients had three to four fewer migraine days each month.

Kaufman receives regular injections once a month, for the past several months, and now experiences only one or two migraines a month. She feels like a different person who no longer has to shy away from social commitments.

"It's life-changing," Kaufman said of the new medication. "The idea that I can go through life and not have that be an issue in my life is incredible."