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Finland to heavily subsidise "revolutionary," expensive migraine drug

The drug can cost 1,160 euros per month, if patients need a double dose, but many migraine sufferers in Finland will be able to get it for a fraction of that.

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File photo. Image: Touko Yrttimaa / Yle

The cost of the recently-approved preventative migraine drug Aimovig will be heavily subsidised in Finland, according to a decision reached on Thursday by the country’s Pharmaceuticals Pricing Board (Hila).

Aimovig, produced by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis, is the brand name of the drug erenumab, a new class of preventative medication for migraine headaches.

The medication was approved by regulators in the US last spring and by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in the summer, and its pharmacy price in Finland is about 580 euros per monthly dose.

The recommended dose of Aimovig is 70 mg every 4 weeks as a single injection, but some patients may benefit from a dose of 140 mg every 4 weeks, given as two injections of 70 mg, according to the EMA.

Starting in April, qualifying patients can be reimbursemed for Aimovig, which means that they only pay a part of the price of around 580 euros, including VAT and pharmacy retailer margins, according to Hila.

The maximum amount Finnish residents are required to pay out-of-pocket for medications is 592 euros per year, with the remainder being picked up the social services agency Kela.

Patients taking Aimovig will reach that cap as they pick up their second monthly dose at the pharmacy.

At that point going forward, patients will be able to get the drug for five euros per month.

There are stipulations, however, on eligibility. Only patients who have at least eight days of migraines per month and who have tried at least two other preventative treatments without success will be eligible, according to the board.

Finland’s pricing scheme on Aimovig goes into effect at the beginning of April.

"Noise" surrounding new treatment

Hila’s chair, Lauri Pelkonen, told Yle that there was an exceptional amount of “noise” about the drug, saying the board had received numerous calls from the public and physicians who wanted to know what it would cost.

Despite the noise, Pelkonen said the board’s decision was reached normally and that all criteria were met.

The drug has been called revolutionary in some circles and has received widespread attention around the world.

Last month migraine sufferers in the UK were faced with disappointment after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence tentatively rejected National Health Service funding for Aimovig, saying that it was not a cost-effective use of NHS resources.

According to the EMA, Aimovig is effective at reducing the number of days chronic sufferers experience migraines. Out of 667 patients who had migraines an average of 18 days per month had seven fewer days with migraines when treated with Aimovig, while patients on a placebo had only four fewer days.

About ten percent of Finland’s population regularly endure migraine headaches, or around half a million people. An estimated one quarter of that group suffer the condition chronically.

Article edited on 8 February 2019 at 2:34 pm to reflect that the 1,160 euro price is for two doses of Aimovig.

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