Newer Migraine Meds 'Here to Stay,' but Are They More Effective?

Kate Johnson

December 15, 2021

When it comes to the acute management of migraines, newer is not necessarily better, according to an analysis of studies comparing triptans – the standard of care – to two newer classifications of medications. The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, "may imply that triptans will remain the current mainstay of specific acute migraine treatment," suggested senior author Shuu-Jiun Wang, MD, from the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, both in Taipei, Taiwan, and his coauthors. However, lasmiditan (a 5-hydroxytryptamine1F receptor agonist) and rimegepant and ubrogepant (both calcitonin gene-related peptide [CGRP] antagonists) might still have unique advantages, since triptans are contraindicated for patients with cardiovascular risks, they said.

The systemic review and meta-analysis showed that, for the outcome of pain freedom and pain relief at 2 hours after the dose, the three newer agents worked better than placebo, but were inferior to most triptans. However, ubrogepant and rimegepant, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment of acute migraine in adults in December 2019 and February 2020, respectively, might be associated with fewer risks of adverse events (AEs), compared with triptans. "These new effective therapeutic options enrich the therapeutic categories of specific acute migraine treatments and may provide an opportunity to decrease the risks of barbiturate or opioid overuse or addiction," they wrote.

The meta-analysis included 64 randomized, controlled trials involving 46,442 participants (74%-87% female across studies; age range, 36-43 years). All studies examined clinically relevant outcomes in patients with International Headache Society criteria for migraine, and compared currently available migraine-specific acute treatments with each other or placebo. The drugs were examined at doses with widespread clinical use and included: ergotamine, dihydroergotamine, sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, almotriptan, eletriptan, frovatriptan, lasmiditan, rimegepant, and ubrogepant.

The findings showed that all drug treatments were associated with a higher odds ratio for pain freedom, compared with placebo, except for sumatriptan, 10-mg nasal spray. The most effective drug was eletriptan 40 mg (OR, 5.59), and the least effective was lasmiditan 50 mg (OR, 1.65). Most triptans were associated with higher ORs for both pain freedom and pain relief at 2 hours, compared with lasmiditan, rimegepant, or ubrogepant, while comparisons between lasmiditan, rimegepant, and ubrogepant for these outcomes showed no statistically significant difference, they reported.

Lasmiditan was associated with the highest risk of any AEs, "however, the AEs were tolerable and were not considered serious. … Therefore, we suggest that the benefits should be weighed against the risk of its AEs when considering the clinical application of lasmiditan," they wrote. Certain triptans (rizatriptan, sumatriptan, and zolmitriptan) were also associated with a higher risk of any AEs, compared with the CGRP antagonists. "Nevertheless, most of the AEs were mild to moderate, and the percentages of serious AEs were low (0.0%-2.1%)."

Finally, the authors noted that their observations of successful treatment with 5-hydroxytriptamine1F receptor agonists and CGRP antagonists "reveals that vasoconstriction is not essential for antimigraine therapy." which could have implications for future pharmaceutical development.

Older and Newer Medications Each Have Advantages

"Triptans will be around for a long time, but the newer medications are here to stay," said Alan M. Rapoport, MD, in reaction to the study. "Before this publication, we knew that the 2-hour efficacy results of the newer medications were not quite as good as the faster-acting triptans; and after this network meta-analysis we are more sure of that," said Rapoport, of the department of neurology at University of California, Los Angeles. "But the fact that the three newer medications do not constrict blood vessels and can easily be given even to patients with contraindications to triptans, or patients that simply are at greater risk due to obesity, smoking history, family history, diabetes, lack of exercise, or higher lipid levels, puts them into a desirable category."

Calling it a "very carefully done" systematic review, Rapoport had a few caveats about the strength of the research. The trials that were included were not identically designed and were performed in different areas, by different investigators, on different patients, he noted. They were also not head-to-head trials "which ensures that the resultant data are more pure." The studies also looked only at rapid results at 2 hours after dosing. "In my experience, patients are often satisfied with the response times from these newer agents; and doctors and patients both are happy that they are not vasoconstrictive," he said. "The researchers also omitted studies looking at zolmitriptan nasal spray, which I have found to be rapid in onset and efficacious with few adverse events."

Finally, Rapoport noted that one condition not examined in the review was medication overuse headache (MOH), which is "a major problem with patients that have high-frequency episodic migraine and chronic migraine. To our knowledge thus far, the two gepants (ubrogepant and rimegepant) do not appear to cause MOH when taken frequently, and these agents may end up being a treatment for this condition."

Wang reported receiving personal fees from Eli Lilly, Daiichi-Sankyo, Norvatis Taiwan, Biogen, Pfizer, and Bayer; and grants from AbbVie, Norvatis, Eli Lilly, Taiwan Ministry of Technology and Science, Brain Research Center, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and Taipei Veterans General Hospital outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported. Rapoport serves as an advisor for AbbVie, Amgen, Biohaven, Cala Health, Satsuma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Theranica, Xoc and Zosano; he is on the Speakers Bureau of AbbVie, Amgen, Biohaven, Lundbeck and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. He is Editor-in-Chief of Neurology Reviews.

The study was funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan, Ministry of Education, Taiwan, and the Brain Research Center, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University.

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


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