External Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation Passes
At-Home Test

Jim Kling

June 10, 2021

A phase 3, sham-controlled clinical trial of an external trigeminal nerve stimulation (e-TNS) device showed confirmed superiority over a sham device and eliminated the most bothersome migraine symptoms after 2 hours of use. The study also demonstrated that the device, manufactured by Cefaly and cleared in 2020 by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use, can be safely and effectively used at home.

The study also explored the benefits of 2 hours of use, rather than the 1 hour of use tested in a previous study. "The programming on the device is currently [set to] turn off at 1 hour. As a result of this study, I tell patients if they don't have adequate relief, and they're tolerating it, that they can activate it again for a second hour," Stewart Tepper, MD, said in an interview. Tepper is a professor of neurology at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, N.H., and a coauthor of the study that was presented by Deena Kuruvilla, MD, at the American Headache Society's 2021 annual meeting. Kuruvilla is a neurologist and director of the Westport (Conn.) Headache Institute.

The improvements seen over the sham were significant but not overwhelming, according to Deborah Friedman, MD, MPH, professor of neurology and ophthalmology at the University of Texas, Dallas.

"The numbers are not super impressive when you compare them with other devices. I thought it was interesting that the most bothersome symptom went away in a much higher percentage of people than the headache. That was actually pretty impressive," said Friedman, who was asked to comment on the study. She also wondered if the sham device may have inadvertently provided a small amount of stimulation, which could explain the smaller than expected efficacy difference. "It just kind of makes me wonder because I would expect to see a larger separation, even though it was statistically significant."

The study was an overall success according to Tepper, who noted that the efficacy of pain freedom was comparable with what has been seen with calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonists (gepants), as well as relieving the most bothersome symptom at 2 hours.

The device failed to reduce the usage of rescue medication, suggesting that it might be a candidate to combine with rescue medications. "I think the main thing is it works. It works in a sham-controlled trial, it works at home, and it works comparably to acute medication. And it is further evidence that the lack of access is something that needs to be addressed," said Tepper.

Access will depend on insurance companies, who have so far been reluctant to pay for the device. Tepper is not optimistic they will come around on their own. "My feeling about it is that the only way that payers will finally start to cover this is with a concerted, organized advocacy campaign by patients. The analogy is that when the disease-modifying therapies became available for multiple sclerosis, the National MS Society organized the MS patients and they demanded that the payers cover the disease modifying therapies. That's the kind of intense focus of advocacy that needs to be done for these noninvasive neuromodulation devices," said Tepper.

The TEAM study was a double blind, randomized, sham-controlled trial of 538 patients who were asked to use neurostimulation for a 2-hour, continuous session within 4 hours of a moderate to severe migraine accompanied by at least one migraine-associated symptom. At 2 hours, 25.5% of those using the device achieved pain freedom, compared with 18.3% of those using the sham (< .05). Among those using the device, 56.4% had freedom from most bothersome symptom, compared with 42.3% of those using the sham (P < .01).

Pain relief at 2 hours was more common in the device group (69.5% vs. 55.2%; P < .01), as was absence of all migraine-associated symptoms at 2 hours (42.5% vs. 34.1%; P < .05), sustained pain freedom at 24 hours (22.8% vs. 15.8%; P < .05), and sustained pain relief at 24 hours (45.9% vs. 34.4%; P < .01). There was no statistically significant between-group difference in use of rescue medications.

In the device group, 8.5% of patients experienced an adverse event, versus 2.9% in the sham group (P = .004). The only adverse reaction that occurred more frequently in the device group was forehead paresthesia, discomfort, and burning (3.5% vs. 0.4%; P = .009).

The study was funded by Cefaly. Tepper and Friedman have no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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