Trials for preventative migraine drug underway in Calgary

Canadians who suffer from migraines could soon have access to a drug that a Calgary doctor says prevents splitting headaches before they start and, in some cases, snuff them out altogether.

Some patients on medication ‘lose their attacks completely,’ says doctor leading trials

While it's not a cure, the founding director of the Calgary Headache Assessment & Management Program, says a new drug could snuff out migraine attacks in some patients. (iStock)

Canadians who suffer from migraines may soon have access to a drug that a Calgary doctor says prevents splitting headaches before they start and, in some cases, snuff them out altogether.

Trials are underway in the city for a drug that targets the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) molecule, which is responsible for transmitting pain signals through the body during migraines.

"They either destroy the CGRP itself or they block the receptor which the CGRP works through to cause its effects," said Dr. Werner Becker, founding director of the Calgary Headache Assessment & Management Program.

The difference between this drug and painkillers is that it can prevent migraines, said Becker. It's meant to be taken all the time — not just when you feel a debilitating headache coming on.

'New chapter in migraine therapy'

The new drug has also been a game-changer for some of the people participating in the trials.

"A small minority… maybe 10 to 15 per cent, seem to lose their attacks completely while they're on these drugs," said Becker.

"Most migraine preventative drugs reduce the number of attacks, but they don't eliminate them. Patients still have to treat individual attacks with the acute medications to some extent."

While he calls the medication a "new chapter in migraine therapy," Becker is quick to point out that it's not a cure.

"Not all patients will respond to them. But they're one more treatment option."

Painkillers are a reactionary treatment for migraines. The drug being tested in Calgary right now is preventative, says Dr. Werner Becker. (CBC)

Few side-effects

Becker said the drug, which is administered by an injection, could be available to Canadians in two years.

Drug trials reveal that it has few side-effects.

"These aren't drugs in the usual sense," he said. 

"These are antibodies that are produced to specifically target the CGRP molecule or its receptor. So, because they're so specific, they don't have a lot of side-effects. You know, they don't affect other systems. They simply go in and do what they're supposed to do."

Calgary is not accepting any more patients for its trial right now, but Becker said there will be a call out for more participants in August.