Access and Unmet Needs of Orphan Drugs in 194 Countries and 6 Areas: A Global Policy Review With Content Analysis (Editor's Choice)



Three hundred million people living with rare diseases worldwide are disproportionately deprived of in-time diagnosis and treatment compared with other patients. This review provides an overview of global policies that optimize development, licensing, pricing, and reimbursement of orphan drugs.


Pharmaceutical legislation and policies related to access and regulation of orphan drugs were examined from 194 World Health Organization member countries and 6 areas. Orphan drug policies (ODPs) were identified through internet search, emails to national pharmacovigilance centers, and systematic academic literature search. Texts from selected publications were extracted for content analysis.


One hundred seventy-two drug regulation documents and 77 academic publications from 162 countries/areas were included. Ninety-two of 200 countries/areas (46.0%) had documentation on ODPs. Thirty-four subthemes from content analysis were categorized into 6 policy themes, namely, orphan drug designation, marketing authorization, safety and efficacy requirements, price regulation, incentives that encourage market availability, and incentives that encourage research and development. Countries/areas with ODPs were statistically wealthier (gross national income per capita = $10 875 vs $3950, P .001).


Globally, the number of countries with an ODP has grown rapidly since 2013. Nevertheless, disparities in geographical distribution and income levels affect the establishment of ODPs. Furthermore, identified policy gaps in price regulation, incentives that encourage market availability, and incentives that encourage research and development should be addressed to improve access to available and affordable orphan drugs.


Adrienne Y.L. Chan Vivien K.Y. Chan Sten Olsson Min Fan Mark Jit Mengchun Gong Shuyang Zhang Mengqin Ge Swathi Pathadka Claudia C.Y. Chung Brian H.Y. Chung Celine S.L. Chui Esther W. Chan Gloria H.Y. Wong Terry Y. Lum Ian C.K. Wong Patrick Ip Xue Li

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