On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug designed to prevent chronic migraine headaches. Aimovig, made by Amgen and Novartis, is a monthly, self-administered injection that blocks a molecule involved in migraine attacks. Over the course of three clinical trials, the drug was successful at reducing the frequency of migraines for chronic sufferers. It is expected to be available in as soon as a week and will cost $575 per month, though out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on insurance.
This is the story of Susan Giordano, 58, whose chronic migraines have nearly ceased after taking a monthly shot of Aimovig in a multi-year clinical trial.
My migraines started slow: They were infrequent but very severe in my late 20s and early 30s. After I had chemotherapy and radiation for colon cancer treatment, they became so much more severe. The radiation therapy put me into early menopause. At that point, they became so frequent that I was taking about 12 migraine abortive pills every month.
They would knock the headache back, but even a tamped-down migraine is not so much fun. It’s an all-body thing. It’s not just nausea; it’s a mental stupidity of a really shocking nature. It makes you super slow, like you’re trying to swim through molasses. Everything ordinary is just very, very hard. I was also very sensitive to light. You really just want to put a blanket over your head and lock yourself in a dark room.
It was affecting my attendance at work. I would go in late and I would be propped up at my desk. It’s so sad to think of all the things that I missed — all the times I had to call in sick, and all the fun things I missed. I missed Bruce Springsteen at Fenway Park because I had a migraine. I heard it was really good!
I tried pretty much everything to prevent migraines — antidepressants, blood pressure pills, anti-seizure pills — some of which had pretty nasty side effects. I had to stop drinking alcohol for over 10 years, because every time I drank it would trigger a headache. I tried eliminating all kinds of things: chocolate, cheeses, Diet Coke, milk. Not enough sleep can give you a headache. Travel can give you a headache, because it combines stress and not enough sleep. It’s really, really hard to control those kinds of factors. No matter what I did, I would get a headache.
I had started subscribing to the National Headache Foundation newsletters, and they sent me an email about this clinical trial. I thought, “Gosh, I have nothing to lose.” So I signed up. That was almost four years ago, and I haven’t had a migraine in over a year.
Once they doubled the dose of the shot, which they did midway through the study, that was when the headaches went to zero. I had zero side effects, which has really been remarkable, especially considering all the preventive things I tried and the side effects that they have. I haven’t renewed my prescription for that abortive headache medication in a year. I used to carry those things in my purse, and I had one in my suitcase. I was always ready in case a headache would strike. Now I’m just skipping around.
Just to know that I can plan events, and they won’t be impaired by headaches, is so liberating. It’s really a pleasure in life to be able to enjoy a glass of wine with friends. It’s the freedom to run around like a normal person, which seems like nothing until you don’t have that freedom.
The drug has really been life-transforming, which I don’t say lightly. It’s been an amazing and exciting journey into cutting-edge medicine for me. I know a lot of people who suffer from under-resolved migraines, and I want them to know about it — but the price tag is not small. I would pay in a heartbeat to continue enjoying what I’m enjoying, but not everyone has that luxury. I hope this will be accessible to everyone who needs it.
Giordano, a retired general manager of a wind energy instrumentation company, lives in Somerville, Mass. with her husband.