Co-authored by Mapi Research Trust’s Isabelle Savre

“To what degree are orphan drugs patient-centered? A review of the current state of clinical research in rare diseases”




Over the past 30 years, the healthcare industry has increasingly turned its attention to rare diseases. Regulators have emphasized the need for clinical research in this area to be patient-centered. However, there is a lack of evidence concerning whether this need is actually met. In this paper, we aim to address this gap.


First, we describe the state of patient-centricity in clinical research in rare diseases based on a targeted literature review. Second, we discuss recommendations from scientific bodies on patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures in rare diseases. Third, we analyze data collected from EMA’s and FDA’s websites concerning rare disease labeling claims and data from concerning the use of PRO measures in rare disease pivotal trials. Fourth, we perform an exhaustive literature review on the use of PRO measures in the pharmaceutical industry, including all phases of clinical research, observational/registry studies, and instrument development and validation.


There is limited information on rare disease patient engagement in study design, recruitment, and retention. None of the initiatives describing methods for developing PRO measures in rare diseases provide the clear guidance clinical researchers need. Only 17.4% of orphan drug labels contain a PRO measure. Less than half of pivotal trials in orphan drugs have a PRO measure as a primary or a secondary endpoint. Although the number of publications about PRO measures in rare diseases has risen in the past fifteen years, our results indicate that substantial improvements are needed to achieve patient-centricity.


The nature and extent of patient engagement in rare disease research is under-documented. The current paradigm for developing and using PRO measures in clinical research is failing to meet the needs of rare disease patients. Not only are PROs rarely used as high-level endpoints in clinical trials or taken into account in labeling claims, they are also under-researched overall – there are too few measures for the multitude of rare diseases. We call for a clear guidance on patient engagement and suggest a realistic approach to the adaptation of PRO strategy to the specific context of clinical research in rare diseases.

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Lanar, S., Acquadro, C., Seaton, J. et al. To what degree are orphan drugs patient-centered? A review of the current state of clinical research in rare diseases. Orphanet J Rare Dis 15, 134 (2020).

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