Sustainable rare diseases business and drug access: no time for misconceptions

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2013 Jul 23;8:109. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-8-109.


Legislative incentives enacted in Europe through the Regulation (EC) No. 141/2000 to incentivize orphan drug development have over the last 12 years constituted a powerful impetus toward R&D directed at the rare diseases population. However, despite therapeutic promises contained in these projects and significant economic impact linked to burgeoning R&D expenditures, the affordability and value of OMPs has become a topic of health policy debate in Europe fueled by the perception that OMPs have high acquisition costs, and by misconceptions around pricing dynamics and rare-diseases business models. In order to maintain sustainable patient access to new and innovative therapies, it is essential to address these misconceptions, and to ensure the successful continuation of a dynamic OMPs R&D within rare-diseases public health policy. Misconceptions abound regarding the pricing of rare diseases drugs and reflect a poor appreciation of the R&D model and the affordability and value of OMPs. Simulation of potential financial returns of small medium sized rare diseases companies focusing on high priced drugs show that their economic returns are likely to be close to their cost of capital. Research in rare diseases is a challenging endeavour characterised by high fixed costs in which companies accrue substantial costs for several years before potentially generating returns from the fruits of their investments. Although heavily dependent upon R&D capabilities of each individual company or R&D organization, continuous flow of R&D financial investment should allow industry to increasingly include efficiencies in research and development in cost considerations to its customers. Industry should also pro-actively work on facilitating development of a specific value based pricing approach to help understanding what constitute value in rare diseases. Policy makers must reward innovation based upon unmet need and patient outcome. Broader understanding by clinicians, the public, and policy makers of the complexity of clinical programs to deliver OMPs to market is required to better comprehend the decisions needed and made by industry. In parallel, an overt effort to consider the impact of public policies on R&D investments is key to enable policy makers to better reconcile the incentives provided by public policy decisions and companies investments decisions in a more positive manner.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Costs
  • Health Policy / economics
  • Humans
  • Orphan Drug Production / economics*
  • Rare Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Rare Diseases / economics