The new study was led by Dr. Uwe Reuter, who is affiliated with The Charité - University Medicine Berlin in Germany.
Migraine is a disabling neurological condition for which there is yet no cure.
An episode may last between 4 and 72 hours and is often accompanied by other debilitating symptoms, such as vomiting, dizziness, feelings of numbness in the hands or the feet, and visual impairment.
It is estimated that over 4 million people in the U.S. have chronic daily migraine, which means that they have an attack on at least 15 days per month.
For these people, the new findings — to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting, held in Los Angeles, CA — may bring some much-needed relief.
The drug erenumab was tested in people with particularly challenging migraines that had been resilient to treatment. The compound reduced migraine attacks by 50 percent for a third of the study participants.
Erenumab vs. previous treatments
Dr. Reuter and team recruited 246 people with episodic migraines who had been failed by previous treatments.
More specifically, 39 percent of the participants had tried two previous medications to no avail, 38 percent had been unsuccessfully treated with three medications, and 23 percent had tried four drugs but had no success.
The participants — who had nine migraines per month, on average, at the beginning of the study — were divided into two groups: one group received injections of 140 milligrams of the new drug, while the other was given a placebo.
Drug halves attacks and has no side effects
Three months into the treatment, 30 percent of the migraine patients in the intervention group had the monthly number of their attacks reduced by 50 percent, whereas only 14 percent of those in the placebo group had their attacks reduced by half.
This means that those who received the treatment were almost three times more likely to have their attacks halved. Importantly, the drug did not present any side effects.
Dr. Reuter comments on the study's findings, saying, "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 percent for nearly a third of study participants. That reduction in migraine headache frequency can greatly improve a person's quality of life."
Dr. Uwe Reuter
The drug works by blocking pain signals in the brain. Specifically, erenumab inhibits a receptor for a calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which is responsible for sending migraine pain signals.
Because erenumab occupies the receptor itself, CGRP has nowhere to bind itself to.
"Our results show that people who thought their migraines were difficult to prevent may actually have hope of finding pain relief," says Dr. Reuter. "More research is now needed to understand who is most likely to benefit from this new treatment."