More than 38 million people in the United States suffering from migraine, and they know a migraine is much more than just a headache. Despite its lack of visible symptoms, migraine can be debilitating, and it is often accompanied by excruciating pain, nausea and sensitivity to light, sound and touch. The pain can be so severe that in a 2018 survey of migraine patients, most respondents rated the worst migraine pain as higher than both the pain associated with kidney stones and broken bones. In the same survey, 91 percent of family members and caretakers of migraine sufferers said they feel “helpless” when their loved one has a migraine.
To Jennifer, excruciating pain was a weekly phenomenon, and she suffered migraine attacks nine to 15 days out of every month. It felt like she was stuck living her life at 50 percent capacity, and her migraine symptoms left her unable to fully commit to being a wife, mother and business owner. She’s not alone: 91 percent of migraine patients report missing work or the inability to function normally during migraine attack. Collectively, it is estimated that employers lose $21.5 million every year due to migraine-related absences from the workplace and $24.4 million due to lowered on-the-job efficiency.
Jennifer accepted her pain as normal for almost 40 years. It was not until she experienced a migraine that lasted 12 days—and pain so bad it put her in a hospital—that she resolved to find an answer. After 25 different medicines, she and her neurologist found a treatment that put the daily suffering to an end. Today, she still wakes up each morning and asks whether she has a headache, but usually the answer is “no.” Finally able to fully live her life, she feels like a completely different person.
Treatments like the one that worked for Jennifer are only possible because of the efforts of biopharmaceutical researchers who work to discover new solutions for migraine patients. One of those researchers is Dr. Joel Trugman, an associate vice president of clinical development at Allergan, who manages the clinical trials that help guide the discovery of new migraine treatments.
“Only when you really understand something can you make an intervention to improve a condition,” Dr. Trugman says. “But after a few decades of science, structure and systematic evaluation of diseases like migraine, we are gaining a real understanding of their underlying causes.”
This progress has led to tangible benefits for patients like Jennifer. Recent advances in treatment options have helped reduce the severity, length and frequency of migraine attacks, leading to less infringement on patients’ lives. More migraine treatments are currently in development; as of May 2018, there are 27 medicines in development for headache, which includes migraine.
“My story is proof these efforts are worth it,” Jennifer says. “I was living at half capacity for almost 40 years. Now that I’m living pain-free, I can be a better mom, wife and business owner.”
Progress should be celebrated, Dr. Trugman says, but we are far from fully understanding conditions like migraine and must rely on continued investment to keep pursuing novel medicines.
“Innovation is worth the time and effort,” Dr. Trugman says. “If we didn’t have innovation, we’d have the same thing ten years from now as we have today. Without innovation and systematic, sustained research efforts, we won’t be better than we are today.”
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