About rare diseases and their associated drug costs
Rare diseases are complex conditions that can be life-threatening or seriously debilitating. Many of them are chronic. Most of them (80%) are genetically based, meaning they’re determined by a person’s genes. More than 50% of these diseases start in early childhood.
One of the foundations of a rare disease strategy is a clear definition of what constitutes a rare disease. And that’s a work in progress. Currently, Canada lacks a common, national definition. With a clear definition, we can better identify the scope of the issue – namely, how many Canadians have a rare disease and what drugs they need. This starting point is the foundation to develop a national strategy.
One potential definition is the one used by both the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders and the European Union. They define a rare disease as one that affects fewer than one in 2,000 people.
While fewer than 10% of rare diseases have any treatment,2 the pipeline of rare disease drugs is growing due to advances in science. Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the pathology of these diseases and the genomic drivers of many conditions. That makes the issue of cost a growing concern. When treatments are available, they’re often extremely expensive. Costs can range from $100,000 to more than $2 million per patient per year, often for life. In 2019, more than half (56%) of rare disease treatments in Canada cost more than $200,000 per patient per year.