CGRP migraine treatment is a new type of treatment used to prevent and treat migraine attacks.
The medication blocks a protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). CGRP may cause inflammation and pain in the nervous system of people who have migraine attacks.
CGRP migraine medications are also called anti-CGRP, CGRP inhibitor and CGRP antagonist treatment.
How CGRP is used to treat migraine pain
People with migraine may have more CGRP in their blood. This chemical has been studied for more than 25 years. It’s thought to be a significant factor in the sequence of events necessary to trigger a migraine attack.
CGRP may help cause migraine attacks. It also worsens headache pain and makes it last longer. CGRP migraine treatments work in one of two ways to stop or treat migraine pain:
- They block the sites in and around the brain where CRGP must attach to work. (Aimovig)
- They bind to CGRP and prevent it from working. (Emgality, Ajovy and others)
How CGRP migraine treatment is taken
There are currently three medications available, and a number of others in development, to prevent migraine based on blocking CGRP.
Currently available in Australia:
In late stage development, not yet available in Australia:
- eptinezumab (Vyepti, FDA approved)
- ubrogepant (Ubrelvy, available in the US)
- rimegepant (Nurtec, FDA approved)
Aimovig, Ajovy and Emgality are taken by an injection with a needle or automatic pen. This is similar to how some people with diabetes take insulin.
Vyepti is a 30 minute infusion which you will need to go to a clinic to get every three months. The gepants under development are mostly tablets, vasgepant is being developed as a nasal spray.
How much does CGRP cost?
In Australia, Aimovig is available on a private prescription between $750 and $850 a month. There was a three month free trial program and a PFP program, both of which will end on April 30, 2020. You can still sign up for the three month free trial until this date. Novartis has decided to remove Aimovig from consideration for listing on the PBS. Read more.
Emgality has received the necessary recommendation from the PBAC to be added to the PBS, but there is no guarantee of when it will be listed as the company still needs to negotiate with the health department on price and restrictions. You can get Emgality on a private prescription from either a neurologist or a GP. They will need to log on to the Lilly portal for doctors and print out a voucher for you to take to the pharmacist, and then the pharmacist will need to order it in for you (it won’t be in stock). You will get your first two months free, and then the recommended retail price is $297 per month with the discount voucher.
Teva have currently suspended sign up to their Ajovy patient familiarisation program (PFP), which enables ten patients per doctor to get the medication for free until it is listed on the PBS. If you have already signed up to the program you should continue to get your Ajovy until PBS. If you missed out, we hope to have news on a new access program soon. Ajovy was on the November agenda of the PBAC, but PBAC have decided to defer their decision. If it is unsuccessful in getting a PBS listing, PFP participants will be given 30 days notice before the program is discontinued. Ajovy is also available privately from your GP or neurologist, and will cost between $820 and $850 per month.
While there are little restrictions on prescribing the drug privately (that is, not through the PBS), the restrictions to get any that make it on to the PBS are for chronic migraine patients only, and likely to be similar to the current restrictions for accessing Botox. These are:
- You must have more than 15 headache days per month, 8 of which are migraine days;
- You must have failed three other medications to prevent migraine; and,
- You must maintain a 50% improvement to continue to get PBS subsidised medications.
Migraine Australia opposes all caps, limits, and eligibility criteria on new migraine treatments, other than the guidelines for suitability and safety issued by manufacturers. Denying treatment to all or part of the migraine community discourages people from seeking help, and stops improvement in migraine management.
What are the risks?
All the effects of CGRP migraine treatments are not yet known. There may be some long-term risks that can happen in some people.
The currently available CGRP migraine treatments have to be injected. This can cause pain. Additionally, an injection site on the skin can get infected. Washing your hands, cleaning the site, and using new needles each time is important. Additionally, we know:
- Aimovig causes constipation
- Emgality can cause allergic reactions, which may cause difficulty breathing
- Ajovy can cause itchiness or a rash
Many have noticed that their migraine pattern and symptoms change once starting a CGRP treatment. There are many common symptoms which are believed not to be side effects of the drugs, but rather migraine symptoms that are more noticeable in the absence of a headache, such as fatigue and nausea. Weight gain and loss has also been reported, which is again believed to be as a result of changes to appetite as a result of better management of migraine. Hormonal changes (particularly changes to periods), and hair loss, have also been noted anecdotally, and may be due to the way CGRP interacts with hormones, but further research is required. You may also find that your triptan medications do not work as well as they used to. This is because the CGRP dilated the vessels in your brain, and the triptan would constrict them; with the CGRP being blocked the triptan doesn’t have as much impact.
CGRP plays a key role in dilating or widening your blood vessels. This helps to balance blood pressure. It is theorised that migraine medications that lower CGRP levels may cause side effects that affect your blood pressure and heart, but no research or clinical trial has recorded significant cardiovascular problems as yet. If you are on blood pressure or heart medications be sure to discuss this with your doctors before beginning CGRP treatment.
CGRP is also involved in other body mechanisms. For example, it helps with wound healing and plays a role in some of the digestive organs. It’s not yet known if blocking this chemical protein could affect wound healing or trigger digestive disorders. Some people may be more prone to getting head colds.
All of the CGRP monoclonal antibodies have been designed to not impact on the immune system. They just use the immune system for delivery. Your immunity is not suppressed, and you are not more vulnerable to bacteria or viruses, including COVID-19.
What are the benefits?
CGRP migraine treatments may work for people who have debilitating and/or frequent migraine attacks.
A 2018 study found that almost a third of people tested had 50 percent fewer migraine attacks. Their migraine symptoms also lasted fewer days. In other research, a third of the people with migraine had up to 75 percent improvement. CGRP treatments have also proven to be effective for people who did not have success with other medications.
Some migraine medications stop working as well if they’re used for some time. Response to CGRP medications gets better with time for most people. In rare cases, some may develop resistant antibodies to the medication, and will need to switch to a different one. Migraine is a very big spectrum, caused by different genes and triggers. No one migraine medication works for everyone, but failing one CGRP mediation does not mean all of the CGRP medications will not work for you.
The injectable CGRP migraine treatments that are currently available are only needed once a month, or once every three months. This makes it easier to not miss a dose.
CGRP migraine treatment is a new type of treatment. It may work better for some people with migraine than other kinds of medications.
CGRP migraine treatments give people relief by preventing migraine attacks from happening, and by reducing the length and severity of attacks.
Like any medication, CGRP treatment may not be right for you. Talk to your doctor to find out; they may recommend trying it for a few months. Free trials are currently available for Aimovig, Emgality and Ajovy.
Keep a migraine diary before starting a CGRP medication and while you’re taking it. Let your doctor know of all changes in symptoms and any side effects you may have.