Regulating Rare Disease: Safely Facilitating Access to Orphan Drugs

By Julien B. Bannister

While approximately one in ten Americans suffers from a rare disease, only 5 percent of rare diseases have a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved treatment. Congressional and regulatory efforts to stimulate the development of rare-disease treatments, while laudable, have not resolved the fundamental issues surrounding rare-disease treatment development. Indeed, small patient populations, incomplete scientific understanding of rare diseases, and high development costs continually limit the availability of rare-disease treatments.

To illustrate the struggle of developing and approving safe rare-disease treatments, this Note begins by discussing the approval of Eteplirsen, the first drug approved for treating a rare disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. After exploring the current drug regulation system and how this impacts the availability of rare-disease treatments, this Note examines the 21st Century Cures Act’s patient experience data provisions and the currently pending Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act. Ultimately, the unmet therapeutic needs of rare-disease patients can be met while protecting patient safety, this Note reasons that, if carefully implemented, the 21st Century Cures Act and the Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act could work in tandem to safely facilitate patient access to rare-disease treatments.