Pfizer and Biohaven bring rimegepant to Europe as migraine war with AbbVie heats up
AbbVie’s been cranking up the heat on Biohaven’s oral migraine med Nurtec with its rival Qulipta. Biohaven’s solution? Take the competition overseas.
Nurtec — or rimegepant, as it’s known chemically — is now the first drug approved in the EU for both acute and prophylactic treatment of migraines, where it will be marketed as Vydura. That’s good news for Pfizer, which inked a $1.2 billion deal with Biohaven back in November to take the lead on ex-US sales. And according to the pharma giant, a UK approval should come any time now.
“Today’s approval marks a huge step forward for patients in Europe who are living with migraine,” Peter Goadsby, director of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Facility, said in a news release.
Rimegepant is part of a class of medicines called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) receptor antagonists and works by blocking the action of a natural substance in the body responsible for migraine headaches. Biohaven, a Yale spinout, snagged its first approval as an acute treatment back in February 2020. Since then, Biohaven has expanded the dissolving pill’s label to include the prevention of episodic migraines.
The industry has come a long way since the first drugs were approved to prevent migraines. Galcanezumab (or Emgality), for example, requires patients to self-inject one dose per month. But injectable drugs may soon be needled out by oral candidates like atogepant (Qulipta) and rimegepant. Both AbbVie and Biohaven tout their oral drugs as first of a kind.
Vydura’s specifically approved for the acute treatment of migraine with or without aura, and the prophylaxis of episodic migraine in adults who have at least four migraine attacks per month. The news comes just a couple of months after the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) gave the drug a nod back in February.
AbbVie — which picked up Qulipta in its $63 billion Allergan buyout — scored an approval for migraine prevention in the US back in September, months behind Nurtec. Even so, Goadsby said the move signaled a “broader shift in the treatment and management paradigm for the migraine community.”
More than 1 billion people in the world are bogged down by migraine headaches, according to AbbVie, including 39 million in the US alone.
But Biohaven’s not going down without a fight. The company reported $463 million in Nurtec sales for 2021, with $190 million of that in the fourth quarter alone. Driving that growth was massive selling, general and administrative (SG&A) spending, totaling $189 million in the fourth quarter, an increase of 66% over the same period last year.
“The increase was primarily due to increased promotional activity supporting Nurtec ODT commercial sales in 2021,” Biohaven CFO Matthew Buten said earlier this year.
The company has tapped a suite of celebrity spokespeople to appear in Nurtec ad campaigns, including actress and TV host Whoopi Goldberg, reality star Khloé Kardashian and the NASCAR Rick Ware racing team.
Meanwhile, AbbVie recruited tennis star and migraine sufferer Serena Williams to its “Anytime, Anywhere” campaign for Ubrelvy, its CGRP receptor antagonist for the treatment of acute migraine.