UBRELVY vs. NURTEC ODT vs. REYVOW vs. TRIPTANS. NEW MIGRAINE ABORTIVE OPTIONS ARE FINALLY HERE, BUT WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES AND IS ONE BEST FOR YOU?
Since the development and availability of sumatriptan in 1992, the main migraine specific abortive available has been the triptans. Triptans work great for a lot of people. However, about 25% of patients do not respond to triptans. Others cannot tolerate side effects, or they cannot use them because of medical contraindications (such as coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, stroke, etc.). The triptans are discussed in more detail here. The alternatives to triptans have been the ergots (ergotamine, DHE) which can be complicated to use, tend to have an excess of side effects for many, and have the same medical contraindications as triptans. NSAIDs and over the counter analgesics are also commonly used, although many do not respond to or cannot take them due to other medical conditions. Even worse are opiates/opioids and butalbital medications such as fioricet, both of which have a high risk of leading to medication overuse headache (rebound headache), as discussed here. For close to 3 decades, these have remained the only limited options of acute/abortive migraine treatment, despite migraine being such a widespread common disorder! Thankfully, these limited options have now expanded to 3 new migraine abortive options in adults between 2 new classes which became available commercially in 2020; the gepants and the ditans. These 3 new abortive medications are compared and contrasted with one another, as well as with the triptans in the table which I (exhaustingly) constructed below.
The gepants were the first to emerge as new options, first with Ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) which became available from Allergan in January 2020 and then Rimegepant (Nurtec ODT (orally dissolvable tablet)) became available by Biohaven in February 2020. During a migraine attack, the trigeminal nerves release a variety of inflammatory proteins. One of the main proteins is called CGRP (calcitonin gene related peptide). CGRP causes worsening inflammation around the brain (“sterile inflammation”), intensified pain signals, and dilation of the arteries surrounding the brain, which leads to increasing pain signals. Gepants work as CGRP receptor antagonists, which means they directly target and block (antagonist) the CGRP receptor. This results in the medication “blocking” the CGRP inflammatory protein from sticking to the CGRP receptor to activate it, and thus prevents it from “turning on” these pathways of pain.
Many patients use once monthly CGRP antagonist monoclonal antibody (mAbs) self-injections (autoinjection devices) which are FDA approved for migraine prevention (Aimovig (Erenumab), Ajovy (Fremanezumab), Emgality (Galcanezumab)). These have little to no drug interactions and do not affect the liver or kidneys. However, patients often ask if these medications can be used with the gepants given similar mechanisms of action (although much different structure, molecule size, and metabolism). Further confirmatory research is needed, but it is theorized that these medicines can likely be used safely together, and they are metabolized by completely different mechanisms. The gepants are metabolized in the liver, while the CGRP mAbs are metabolized and cleared in the reticuloendothelial system. Furthermore, there is limited evidence suggesting that they may even provide a synergistic effect by working together, but more evidence is needed to confirm this.
The side effect profile of the gepants is minimal compared to the triptans and their alternatives. This is really great to have new options with much less side effect potential! In addition, there is no interaction with using them and triptans, NSAIDs, or other acute meds in case they happen to be taken close together. These medications are not associated with addiction potential, or medication overuse headache (rebound), which is great! Compared to the triptans and ergots, these medications are NOT contraindicated in patients with stable cardiovascular or peripheral vascular disease or risk factors because they do not cause vasoconstriction (narrowing) of the arteries, which is a HUGE benefit. There are many patients who have been stuck in limbo unable to use standard therapies such as triptans due to other medical problems such as heart disease, so we finally have a safe alternative for them, which is another highlight of these medications. Safety of these medications in pregnancy or breastfeeding is unknown because they haven’t been studied, and therefore are not recommended. The primary drug interactions to be aware of with these medications are when used with other medications that are metabolized by the liver enzyme system called CYP3A4. Many commonly used medications are metabolized by this system. Strong or moderate inhibitors of CYP3A4 (which slow down the metabolism activity) will cause an increase in gepant exposure. Strong or moderate inducers of CYP3A4 (which increase the metabolism activity) will cause a decrease in gepant exposure and possibly decreased effectiveness. These medications should be avoided in patients with severe liver disease or end stage kidney disease such as those on dialysis.
Given that Ubrelvy and Nurtec ODT are of the same class, they each have their own marketing pitch to differentiate them, although the bottom line is that they are both excellent options.
Allergan markets Ubrelvy as quickly relieving migraine pain within 2 hours with just one dose, and that complete elimination of migraine pain with one dose is possible. Furthermore, they highlight that they provide the option of being able to repeat a 2nd dose if needed (similar to how triptans are dosed), with a higher proportion of patients achieving pain freedom 2 hours after taking the optional second dose. They also claim effective relief whether Ubrelvy was taken right away at migraine onset or within 4 hours. They currently have a savings card program which should work with commercial insurances for $10 per month, which works out to $1 per pill (10 pills per month).
Biohaven boasts that Nurtec ODT dissolves under or on the tongue in seconds, and starts working in minutes (15 minutes in some patients). They highlight that it does not require water or other liquids to take with the dose, so it can be taken anytime and anywhere. They also point out that pain relief and pain freedom lasts up to 48 hours for many patients, which makes sense because it has the longest half-life. They currently have a savings card program which should work with commercial insurances for $0 per month (8 pills per month).
The ditans are another new class of migraine abortive, premiering with Lasmiditan (Reyvow) in January 2020 from Eli Lilly. Lasmiditan acts as a high affinity 5-HT1F (serotonin 1F) receptor agonist. The result of its action is a decrease in the release of inflammatory pain producing neurotransmitters and neuropeptides including CGRP from the trigeminal nerves during a migraine attack. These receptors are also involved in modulating other pain signals and blocking (inhibiting) other pain pathways. Notably, like the gepants, they also do not cause arterial vasoconstriction. Again, this is a tremendous benefit and another great option in patients who may not be able to use triptans due to medical contraindications such as coronary or peripheral vascular disease. Caution should be used with other serotonergic drugs given a potential for serotonin syndrome, which was reported in clinical trials.
In a driving study, 50 mg, 100 mg, or 200 mg doses of Lasmiditan significantly impaired subjects’ ability to drive, and more sleepiness was reported at 8 hours following a single dose compared to placebo. Therefore, patients should wait at least 8 hours between dosing and driving or operating machinery. This can certainly be a drawback in terms of being a treatment option for many patients as the goal of abortive therapy is partly to be able to maintain and restore function in order to not disrupt work, plans, etc. However, if you are in a position where this would not be an issue for you, it could certainly be a valid option to have in your migraine war chest. It should also be used with caution in combination with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants.
Notably, Lasmiditan is a Schedule V controlled substance compared to the other abortive options. Schedule V represents the lowest abuse potential category from the DEA. The reason is because in a human abuse potential study, doses of 100 mg, 200 mg, and a supratherapeutic dose of 400 mg were associated with statistically significantly higher “drug liking” scores than placebo, indicating possible abuse potential. However, it had statistically significantly lower “drug liking” scores compared to alprazolam 2 mg. Lasmiditan also produced adverse events of euphoria and hallucinations to a greater extent than placebo, although it was a low frequency (about 1% of patients). They currently have a savings card program which should work with commercial insurances for $0 per month (4 pills per month).
The chart below compares and contrasts the treatment outcomes data between Rimegepant, Ubrogepant, Lasmiditan, and Sumatriptan (as representative of the triptan class since it was the first developed). The source of the data comes from the key trials of each medication, as well as some data obtained directly from the pharmaceutical companies. It’s important to note that the trials for each medication did not all include the same data point evaluations, so not all of the comparison data is available across the medications to compare. Also, this data is not reflective of head to head trials between these medications. The data is derived from separate independent trials, many times of which there were variations in study design and endpoints. So, they should not be thought of as head to head comparisons necessarily. In addition, the original triptan studies did not include many of the treatment outcome data points that have become more commonly used since they were developed such as 8 hour data, 2-48 hour data, most bothersome symptom, etc. Therefore, many of these data points within the columns of the different medications may be labeled by N/A (not available).
Overall, these are all very effective and useful medications to keep in mind for your migraine abortive war chest. They are all a welcome and much needed option for the abortive treatment of migraine. Many of the data points are fairly similar, and some data points weren’t compared, but regardless, I have highlighted some of the key differences to take note of in bold print. I hope this data can provide some guidance on some of the differences in these medications which may help to better select them based on the treatment goals, setting of use, and other patient characteristics.
|Rimegepant||Ubrogepant||Lasmiditan||Sumatriptan (100 mg)|
|Mechanism of Action||CGRP receptor antagonist||CGRP receptor antagonist||5HT1F agonist||5HT1B and 5HT1Dagonist|
|Available dosing||75 mg orally dissolvable tablet||50 mg, 100 mg pill||50 mg, 100 mg, 200 mg (100 mg x 2) pill||25 mg, 50 mg, 100 mg pill; 3 mg, 4 mg, 6 mg injection; 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg nasal spray|
|Max dose per 24 hours||75 mg||200 mg||200 mg||200 mg|
|Pills per prescription (standard, may be more depending on insurance)||8||10||8||9|
|Dosing frequency||1 dose/24 hours||Dose can repeated once in 2 hours; 2 doses/24 hours||1 dose/24 hours||Dose can repeated once in 2 hours; 2 doses/24 hours|
|Suggested number of migraine attacks treated per 30 days||15 (however, currently also being studied as a daily preventive)||8||4||10|
|Time to reach statistically significant pain relief||60 minutes (however, there was a 15 minute measured clinical beneficial effect)||60 minutes with 50 mg or higher doses||30 minutes with 100 mg or higher doses;
60 minutes with 50 mg dose
|30 minutes with 50 mg or higher doses|
|1 hour significant pain relief||37%
|43% (50 mg)
N/A (100 mg)
|37.3% (50 mg)
»41% (100 mg)
»46% (200 mg)
|20-35% (100 mg)
|Differences in pain relief at 15 minutes||8%
|Differences in pain relief at 30 minutes||19%
|19% (50 mg)
N/A (100 mg)
|»15% (50 mg)
17.5% (100 mg)
19.1% (200 mg)
|11% (100 mg)
|2 hour pain relief||59%
|61.7% (50 mg)
61.4% (100 mg)
|59% (50 mg)
59.4-64.8% (100 mg)
59.5-65% (200 mg)
|46-67% (100 mg)
|2 hour pain freedom||21%
|20.5% (50 mg)
21.2% (100 mg)
|28% (50 mg)
28-31% (100 mg)
32-39% (200 mg)
|22-33% (100 mg)
|8 hour pain freedom with 1 dose||56%
|82.3% (50 mg)
82.7% (100 mg)
|8 hour pain relief with 1 dose||74%
|92% (50 mg)
N/A (100 mg)
|% of patients with 1st dose pain relief who achieved pain freedom after 2nddose||N/A||54.7% (50 mg/50 mg)
33.3% (50 mg/placebo)
51.6% (100 mg/100 mg)
33.3% (100 mg/placebo)
|Sustained pain freedom 2-24 hours||15.7%
|13.6% (50 mg)
15.4% (100 mg)
|17.2% (50 mg)
14.8-17.9% (100 mg)
18.6-22.7% (200 mg)
|Sustained pain relief 2-48 hours||47.8%
|31.5% (50 mg)
34% (100 mg)
|2 hour absence of most bothersome migraine symptom||35%
|38.7% (50 mg)
37.7% (100 mg)
|41% (50 mg)
41-44% (100 mg)
41-49% (200 mg)
|8 hour absence of most bothersome migraine symptom||N/A||90.9% (50 mg)
92.4% (100 mg)
|Time to peak plasma concentration TMAX||1.5 hours||1.5 hours||1.8 hours||1.5-2.5 hours|
|½ life||11 hours||5-7 hours||5.7 hours||2-2.5 hours|
|Time to reach pharmacologically active concentration||15 minutes||Within 11 minutes||N/A||N/A|
|Time the pharmacologically active concentration is maintained||48 hours||12 hours||N/A||N/A|
|Notable side effects||Nausea
2% (50 mg)
4% (100 mg)
2% (50 mg)
3% (100 mg)
3% (50 mg)
4% (100 mg)
4% (200 mg)
6% (50 mg)
6% (100 mg)
7% (200 mg)
9% (50 mg)
15% (100 mg)
17% (200 mg)
3% (50 mg)
7% (100 mg)
9% (200 mg)
|Widely variable, most common: Dizziness, fatigue, paresthesias, sedation, nausea, palpitations, anxiety, muscle tightness sensation in chest/neck/throat|