Novartis study validates need for better migraine treatment, as Novartis-Amgen drug hits market

Novartis headquarters
Novartis, along with a migraine advocacy group and Amgen, has begun releasing data from a comprehensive study on the social and economic effects of migraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

While Novartis and Amgen work to keep up with pent-up demand for their newly launched migraine treatment Aimovig, a new study backed by both pharma companies looks at real-world needs of migraine patients.

The first data released from the “My Migraine Voice” survey, initiated and funded by Novartis and the European Migraine and Headache Alliance and with Amgen on the steering committee, revealed the effects of migraine on workers and employers.

The survey of more than 11,000 migraine sufferers from 31 countries found that more than 60% lose almost a full week of work (4.6 days) every month to migraines. Even more problematic were what the study termed "presenteeism" days, with an average 9.4 days per month in which sufferers were not working at full capacity because they were either recovering from a migraine or beginning the next one. The result? Work productivity globally cut in half by migraines and not enough support from employers. In the U.S. specifically, migraine patients said the majority of employers (80%) knew about their migraines, but only 21% offered support.

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“My Migraine Voice aimed to uncover the global burden of migraine from the patient perspective in a real-world setting,” said Danny Bar-Zohar, the global head of neuroscience development at Novartis. “When a pharma company runs a clinical study on a new drug, we do it in relatively sterile conditions. With this, we aimed to listen to voices of patients around the world so their needs could be understood and then addressed.”

RELATED: Amgen's Aimovig won its first-in-class migraine nod. Will payers step up to the $6,900 price?

That real-world experience is valuable not only for future drug development and broader disease management approaches but also for current educational, tele-coaching and digital solutions to help migraine sufferers with daily challenges. For example, Novartis Switzerland has launched a pilot program with its own employees which includes a custom version of the Migraine Buddy program from Healint as well as free coaching and other services. Bar-Zohar said Novartis is in initial talks with other employers about possibly expanding the program.

Amgen is working on its own employer effort in the U.S. in another migraine disease program. Its “Manage My Migraine” program, created in conjunction with employee benefit consultant Piper Jordan, will work with several large employers across multiple industries to offer educational resources, such as webinars, email tips and a website. It will also conduct research through a mobile app that will track patient symptoms for aggregate analyses.

RELATED: Migraine maven Lilly finds 'understanding gap' between patients, nonpatients in new survey

Bar-Zohar emphasized that the study was not connected to the commercialization of Aimovig but rather had the goal of studying and understanding the economic, social and emotional impact of migraines.

Novartis and Amgen launched a migraine awareness campaign last year called “Speak Your Migraine” in digital and social. The two companies will leverage data from the Migraine Voice study into that awareness campaign, but those plans are still developing, a Novartis spokesperson said.

Aimovig launched in May with strong buzz and healthy demand. One analyst reported that the companies have been "overwhelmed" by pent-up demand from migraine patients. Some payers have put in prior authorization programs that will dampen the uptake, but the effects of those hurdles are not yet known since the partners have started by offering Aimovig for free. 

Warnings from payers about high list prices likely factored into Amgen’s decision to price the drug at $6,900, below the $8,000 to $10,000 range industry watchers expected. The demand is good news for the drugmakers, which have a limited window to capitalize on the open market. Approvals in the class targeting the calcitonin gene-related peptide pathway are expected soon from Eli Lilly and Teva, with even more in the works from Alder and Allergan.