The Indianapolis-based drugmaker is in the news on Wednesday as the FDA approval of its migraine drug Emgality for cluster headache treatment has flipped the script from 2018, wherein the pharmaceutical giant reached approval stage for Emgality's migraine treatments later than both Teva Pharmaceutical's (TEVA) - Get Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Limited Sponsored ADR Report Ajovy drug and Amgen's (AMGN) - Get Amgen Inc. Report Aimovig.
Cluster headaches are a specific type of headache that differs from migraines in symptomology and population affected, generally marked by severe bouts of pain affecting the sinuses and eyes. As such, it is often misdiagnosed as a result of tooth or sinus issues. Emgality is the first drug to be approved for treatment of the issue, outpacing its aforementioned rivals.
"Cluster headache is a very debilitating disease," Christi Shaw, President of Biomedicines at the company told TheStreet. "Emgality is the first and only medicine that's approved for cluster headache and it reduces the number of attacks by over 50% so the cluster headache community will be thrilled to finally have a treatment."
However, she noted that Eli Lilly has grander ambition in mind, that are not only aimed at solving serious headache issues that do indeed impact millions, but addressing broader pain problems plaguing the population and curbing the opioid epidemic caused by chronic pain conditions.
"There's 100 million Americans living with pain," Shaw explained. "That's the population of California, Texas, Florida and New York combined [and] more than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined. So chronic pain is really an issue and we really need new innovation that's not an addicting."
The two-pronged problem solving pipeline is pivotal not only for sufferers of pain conditions, but the U.S. more broadly as more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids each day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The lack of relief many migraine and cluster headache sufferers encountered pushed many to adopt opioids as a solution contributing to the epidemic. By the same logic, chronic pain conditions extending to other body parts has much the same amplifying effect.
As such, chronic pain overall was noted as a focus for the product pipeline Shaw is overseeing.
"[The pain drug pipeline] will expand as well," Shaw said. "We're looking at non-addicting, non-opioid treatments for pain. We acquired [CNTX-0290 rights from] Centrexion, which is a non-addicting non-opioid medicine in phase one for pain."
The newly acquired drug is a key piece in pain relief as the company takes aim at the massive market that remains woefully under-addressed.