You wouldn’t think that being called an “orphan” is a good thing. But for developers of treatments for rare diseases — including inherited retinal conditions — “orphan” status provides valuable benefits, such as tax incentives, access to special research grants and assistance with clinical trial design. The orphan designation also gives seven years of market exclusivity to the developer of a treatment.
The orphan designation was the result of the Orphan Drug Act of 1983, which facilitates the development of treatments for diseases affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. Congress passed the act because markets are small for rare conditions, and companies are often not motivated to develop therapies for them.
Most emerging therapies in clinical trials for inherited retinal diseases have received orphan status, including Oxford BioMedica’s gene therapies for Stargardt disease and Usher syndrome type 1B and Advanced Cell Technology’s stem cell treatment for Stargardt disease.
I am always quick to point out the irony that rare diseases aren’t all that rare. As I mentioned in a blog post on Rare Disease Day — February 29, 2102 — there are more than 7,000 rare diseases, and one in 10 Americans is affected by one. Chances are that you or someone you know is affected by a rare disease, and will someday benefit from orphan-designated therapies.