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Annali dell'Istituto Superiore di Sanità

Print version ISSN 0021-2571


TARUSCIO, Domenica; CAPOZZOLI, Fiorentino  and  FRANK, Claudio. Rare diseases and orphan drugs. Ann. Ist. Super. Sanità [online]. 2011, vol.47, n.1, pp.83-93. ISSN 0021-2571.

According to the Regulation (EC) N. 141/2000 of the European Parliament and of the Council, rare diseases are life-threatening or chronically debilitating conditions, affecting no more than 5 in 10 000 persons in the European Community. It is estimated that between 6000 to 8000 distinct rare diseases affect up to 6% of the total EU population. Therefore, these conditions can be considered rare if taken individually but they affect a significant proportion of the European population when considered as a single group. Several initiatives have been undertaken at international, European and national level to tackle public health as well as research issues related to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance of these diseases. The development of innovative and effective medical products for their diagnosis and treatment is frequently hampered by several factors, including the limited knowledge of their natural history, the difficulties in setting up clinical studies due to the limited numbers of patients affected by a specific disease, the weak interest of sponsors due to the restricted market opportunities. Therefore, incentives and other facilitations have been adopted in many parts of the world, including in the EU, in order to facilitate the development and commercialization of diagnostic tools and treatments devoted to rare diseases. This paper illustrates mainly the European initiatives and will discuss the problematic and controversial aspects surrounding orphan drugs. Finally, activities and measures adopted in Italy are presented.

Keywords : rare diseases; orphan drugs; incentives; small population.

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