A drug known as erenumab may be able to help sufferers of hard-to-treat migraines, researchers have found. The preliminary study on the new treatment was released on April 17 and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.

Characterized by the frequency of attacks (at least 5, which can last from a few hours to 3 days if untreated) and severe pain, migraines are said to affect up to 13 percent of adults in the United States. Currently, there is no cure for migraines, leaving patients to seek relief from pain-relieving medications such as ibuprofen. In severe cases, they may even seek preventative treatments or Botox injections. While these options have been successful for some, others report no improvement or side effects.

Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) plays an important role in the development of migraines. The new drug works by blocking the CGRP receptor which would prevent it from sending pain signals. The company Amgen, which has rights to the drug (Aimovig), stated that it is currently the only one that targets the CGRP receptor pathway instead of the CGRP itself.

As many as 246 people who suffered from treatment-resistant migraines four to 14 times a month were recruited for the study.

"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," explained study author Dr. Uwe Reuter, of The Charité - University Medicine Berlin in Germany.

Among them, 39 percent had been treated unsuccessfully with two other medications, 38 percent with three medications and 23 percent with four medications. Each participant was given either 140 milligrams of erenumab (injections) or a placebo once a month for a period of three months. Following this period, the results of the study found that people treated with erenumab, on average, experienced a reduction in the number of days they had headaches. 

"Our study found that erenumab reduced the average number of monthly migraine headaches by more than 50% for nearly a third of study participants. That reduction in migraine headache frequency can greatly improve a person's quality of life," Dr. Reuter said. 

They also experienced better physical function and could reduce the number of days they had to take drugs to prevent their migraines. While 1 percent of the placebo patients opted out, none of the patients who were taking erenumab stopped treatment due to side effects. Dr. David Kudrow, director of the California Medical Clinic for Headache, stated that the drug had potential to be "a real game-changer" because of how favorable the side effect profile was in addition to its effectiveness in pain relief.

The researchers added they will need to conduct further study to confirm if this benefit continues in the long run. Currently, under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a decision on the approval of the drug will be announced on May 17.