Evidence supporting regulatory-decision making on orphan medicinal products authorisation in Europe: methodological uncertainties

Caridad Pontes, Juan Manuel Fontanet, Roser Vives, Aranzazu Sancho, Mònica Gómez-Valent, José Ríos, Rosa Morros, Jorge Martinalbo, Martin Posch, Armin Koch, Kit Roes, Katrien Oude Rengerink, Josep Torrent-Farnell, Ferran Torres

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22 Citations (Scopus)


BackgroundTo assess uncertainty in regulatory decision-making for orphan medicinal products (OMP), a summary of the current basis for approval is required; a systematic grouping of medical conditions may be useful in summarizing information and issuing recommendations for practice.MethodsA grouping of medical conditions with similar characteristics regarding the potential applicability of methods and designs was created using a consensus approach. The 125 dossiers for authorised OMP published between 1999 and 2014 on the EMA webpage were grouped accordingly and data was extracted from European Public Assessment Reports (EPARs) to assess the extent and robustness of the pivotal evidence supporting regulatory decisions.Results88% (110/125) of OMP authorizations were based on clinical trials, with 35% (38/110) including replicated pivotal trials. The mean (SD) number of pivotal trials per indication was 1.4 (0.7), and the EPARs included a median of three additional non-pivotal supportive studies. 10% of OMPs (13/125) were authorised despite only negative pivotal trials. One-third of trials (53/159) did not include a control arm, one-third (50/159) did not use randomisation, half the trials (75/159) were open-label and 75% (119/159) used intermediate or surrogate variables as the main outcome. Chronic progressive conditions led by multiple system/organs, conditions with single acute episodes and progressive conditions led by one organ/system were the groups where the evidence deviated most from conventional standards. Conditions with recurrent acute episodes had the most robust datasets. The overall size of the exposed population at the time of authorisation of OMP-mean(SD) 190.5 (202.5)-was lower than that required for the qualification of clinically-relevant adverse reactions.ConclusionsThe regulatory evidence supporting OMP authorization showed substantial uncertainties, including weak protection against errors, substantial use of designs unsuited for conclusions on causality, use of intermediate variables, lack of a priorism and insufficient safety data to quantify risks of relevant magnitude. Grouping medical conditions based on clinical features and their methodological requirements may facilitate specific methodological and regulatory recommendations for the study of OMP to strengthen the evidence base.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalOrphanet Journal of Rare Diseases
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2018


  • Clinical trials as topic
  • Drug approval
  • Orphan drug production
  • Rare diseases
  • Research design/methods
  • Research design/standards


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