A migraine treatment for needle-phobes

The Sumavel DosePro sumatriptan delivery system comes to market this month to treat migraines subcutaneously. Instead of using a needle, it blasts the drug through skin using high air pressure--to mixed reviews.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

If you have the poor fortune of suffering from both migraines and needle phobia, I have good news and bad news.


The good news is that five months after receiving FDA approval, the Sumavel DosePro sumatriptan delivery system--due to hit the shelves this month--manages to be both subcutaneous and needle-free, and can bring relief from migraines in as few as 10 minutes without having to push in any needles.

The bad news is that the drug delivery system may be more painful than using a good old-fashioned needle. In order to deliver the migraine pain reliever sumatriptan through the skin without the aid of a small, quick, sharp needle, this delivery system uses a high burst of nitrogen to shoot the drug through the skin. Umm, ouch?

One reviewer of the delivery system says people are reporting that the system is painful and can result in bruising, swelling, bleeding, and the like. If your fear of needles is extreme, this lack of a needle may be worth the fuss. But if your fear is mild, this may not be the approach for you.


Acute migraines are thought to afflict some 30 million Americans, according to the National Headache Foundation. Triptans, first introduced in the '90s to relieve migraine and headache pain, are not preventative. Sumatriptan was the first triptan available, in 1991, and can be taken orally via tablet and also by injection.

In its press release, Zogenix boasts that DosePro offers "other practical benefits" (plural), but only goes on to enumerate one, which is that DosePro gets around the nuisance of throwing up pills taken orally. But this is not a unique benefit of this particular delivery system; it is a benefit of subcutaneous delivery, which is typically done by needle injection.

That said, Zogenix does point out several benefits to the blast versus the needle: less anxiety or fear due to the lack of a needle; no need for a needle disposal container; no risk of needle-stick injury or contamination; an easy-to-use three-step process; and no need to fill or manipulate the device.

The companies Zogenix and Astellas have an exclusive co-promotion agreement to market DosePro in the U.S. Zogenix is focusing its sales activities primarily on the neurology market while Astellas is focusing on primary care physicians.

If DosePro is more painful, is it worth it? I don't think so, but then, I don't mind needles. If you decide to try it out, be sure to read this long list of adverse side effects and contraindications via Formulary Journal.