Amgen, Biohaven, Lilly and Teva plowed plenty into marketing migraine meds. Is it working?

Pharma companies vying for a piece of the lucrative migraine market have gone all-in on marketing. They've turned to Olympic athletes and Hollywood stars to pitch recently approved brands in TV commercials and on social media.

But is the message sinking in with patients? Apparently not yet, a new survey from Phreesia Life Sciences suggests.

Nearly half of the more than 4,000 migraine patients polled in July 2021 said they couldn’t recall a single brand name when asked about preventive migraine drugs. The most recognized brand? Topamax, which won FDA approval for migraine way back in 2004.

While slightly more than a quarter of patients (26%) recognized the older Johnson & Johnson drug, fewer than 1 in 10 patients remembered the newer brands, which have entered the market in recent years.

Leading the pack among these newer meds, which target CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide), is Amgen’s Aimovig, with 8% of patients recalling the brand, followed by Eli Lilly’s Emgality and Biohaven’s Nurtec ODT (both 7%) and Teva’s Ajovy (3%).

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Although the survey shows migraine drug marketers have work to do when it comes to brand recognition, it also reveals a large untapped market, said Liz Hebert, senior research manager at Phreesia, which surveyed patients checking in for doctors' appointments through its digital patient intake platform.

For example, nearly three-quarters of patients said migraine has had a moderate to great impact on their daily lives, but only 37% had tried a preventive treatment. (The figure jumps to 52% for acute meds.)

That doesn’t mean they’re not willing. In fact, 40% of patients who have never taken a preventive med—and nearly 60% of those who have—said they were likely to try a new preventive treatment in the next year, according to the survey.

“What that tells me is they just need an additional push,” said Joyce Wang, Phreesia’s associate director of research.

One way pharma companies can provide that push is with more detailed information about how their meds work and how they can help, the report suggests. In some cases, patients aren’t even aware their migraines are serious enough to warrant a prescription, so stronger messaging is needed, Wang and Hebert said.

“They haven’t been given the information to understand that, ‘Hey, you don’t need to suffer,’” Wang explained.

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What else do migraine patients want from drug companies? Information about side effects is high on the list, Wang and Hebert said, with 36% saying it would increase their interest in a new preventive brand.

Almost a third of patients (32%) said “tips to manage side effects” would rank among the top three most helpful resources pharma companies could give them about their migraine care. And among those who are no longer taking a preventive medication, 28% said they stopped because of side effects, compared to only 15% who said the treatment didn’t work.

“That tells a really strong story,” said Wang. “They really need some more detailed guidance on how to best manage those [side effects].”

Pharma also needs to continue its outreach to doctors—particularly primary care physicians who may be more likely to recommend over-the-counter meds, the report recommends. More than half of patients (53%) said a doctor’s recommendation would boost their interest in a new migraine treatment.

“Patients are talking about their migraines all the time, and they’re not just talking about their migraines to their specialty doctors,” Wang said. “We really need to broaden the horizons and get more people involved in the treatment process.”