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Gaceta Sanitaria

Print version ISSN 0213-9111


MESTRE-FERRANDIZ, Jorge et al. Analysis of the evolution in the access to orphan medicines in Spain. Gac Sanit [online]. 2020, vol.34, n.2, pp.141-149.  Epub June 01, 2020. ISSN 0213-9111.


To assess the access to orphan medicines in Spain, focusing on those with an active “orphan” designation, as of 31st December 2017; and for those orphan medicines in the Spanish market, estimate the time between being assigned a National Code (NC) by the Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios (AEMPS) and being approved for launch.


We used the European Commission's Public Register of orphan medicines to identify the orphan medicines authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as of 31 December 2017, while we sourced expired orphan indications from the EMA's website. Dates when NCs were assigned were sourced from the AEMPS, and commercialisation dates from Bot PLUS. A descriptive analysis of the study variables was done. The quantitative variables were described using means and medians, as well as standard deviations and ranges. The qualitative variables were described according to absolute and relative frequencies. The comparison of results was performed by parametric and non-parametric contrasts according to the applicability, at a 5% significance level.


The EMA has approved 100 orphan medicines (with designation as of 31/12/2017) between 2002-2017. Eighty-six have a NC assigned by the AEMPS. Fifty-four have been launched in Spain (representing 54% of the full sample; 63% with NC). For the 53 orphan drugs with launch date in Spain, the median time between receiving its NC and its launch is 13.4 months (standard deviation: 17.0; minimum: 2.1; maximum: 91,7). The median time is 12.4 months and 14.0 months for those medicines launched in Spain between 2002-2013 and 2014-2017 respectively (p = 0.46). This difference is not statistically significant, which is what could be expected given the low numbers of orphan medicines in the “population”.


Complex factors determine the access to orphan drugs in Europe. The centralised procedure to obtain marketing authorisation at European level is a success. However, access is more limited, given the complexities of the evaluation of the available evidence for pricing and reimbursement decisions. It is therefore necessary to implement new policies that reduce inequalities in access and help achieve sustainable healthcare systems. To achieve this, they will need to offer the possibility of allowing earlier access, and using payment by results when there is high uncertainty.

Keywords : Orphan medicines; Rare diseases; Marketing authorization; Access; Reimbursement.

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