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Orphan designation

Please note that this product was withdrawn from the Community Register of designated Orphan Medicinal Products in April 2016 on request of the Sponsor.

On 20 October 2004, orphan designation (EU/3/04/228) was granted by the European Commission to Stragen France SAS, for homoharringtonine for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.

The sponsorship was transferred to ChemGenex Europe SAS, France, in January 2009 and subsequently to Teva Pharma GmbH, Germany, in December 2012.

What is acute myeloid leukaemia?

Acute myeloid leukaemia is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the blood and the bone marrow. The bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside the large bones in the body. Normally, the bone marrow makes cells called 'blasts' that mature into several different types of blood cell that have specific functions in the body. These include red cells, white cells and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen and other materials to all tissues of the body. White blood cells fight infection. Platelets make the blood clot. When leukaemia develops, the bone marrow produces large numbers of abnormal blood cells. There are several types of leukaemia. In myeloid leukaemia, blasts that normally develop into white blood cells called granulocytes are affected. The blasts do not mature and become too many. These blast cells are then found in the blood and also accumulate in the bone marrow. Leukaemia can be acute (when it develops quickly with many blasts). Acute myeloid leukaemia is life-threatening.

What is the estimated number of patients affected by the condition?

At the time of designation, acute myeloid leukaemia affected approximately 0.7 in 10,000 people in the European Union (EU). This was equivalent to a total of 32,000 people*, and is below the ceiling for orphan designation, which is 5 people in 10,000. This is based on the information provided by the sponsor and the knowledge of the Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products (COMP).

*Disclaimer: For the purpose of the designation, the number of patients affected by the condition is estimated and assessed on the basis of data from the European Union (EU 25), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. At the time of designation, this represented a population of 464,200,000 (Eurostat 2004).

What treatments are available?

Treatment for leukaemia is complex and depends on a number of factors including the type of leukaemia, the extent of the disease and whether the leukaemia has been treated before. It also depends on the age, the symptoms, and the general health of the patient. The primary treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia is chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells). Several products were authorised for the condition in the Community at the time of submission of the application for orphan-drug designation.

Homoharringtonine could be of potential significant benefit for the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia because it may act in a different way than the already authorised drugs. This assumption will have to be confirmed at the time of marketing authorisation. This will be necessary to maintain the orphan status.

How is this medicine expected to work?

Homoharringtonine (HHT) is a substance that was originally isolated from the entire plant of the evergreen tree Cephalotaxus harringtonia K. Koch van harringtonia present in China. Homoharringtonine belongs to a group of medicines called alkylating agents. Alkylating agents are highly reactive chemicals that bind to some components of the cell and consequently damage or kill the cells, in particular those that are proliferating. It is thought that through this mechanism, homoharringtonine might stop the growth of the cancer cells.

What is the stage of development of this medicine?

The effects of homoharringtonine have been evaluated in experimental models.

At the time of submission of the application for orphan designation, clinical trials in patients with acute myeloid leukaemia had been completed.

Homoharringtonine was not marketed anywhere worldwide for acute myeloid leukaemia, at the time of submission. Orphan designation of homoharringtonine had been granted in the United States for the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukaemia.

In accordance with Regulation (EC) No 141/2000 of 16 December 1999, the COMP adopted a positive opinion on 9 September 2004 recommending the granting of this designation.

Opinions on orphan medicinal product designations are based on the following three criteria:
  • the seriousness of the condition;
  • the existence of alternative methods of diagnosis, prevention or treatment;
  • either the rarity of the condition (affecting not more than 5 in 10,000 people in the Community) or insufficient returns on investment. 

Designated orphan medicinal products are products that are still under investigation and are considered for orphan designation on the basis of potential activity. An orphan designation is not a marketing authorisation. As a consequence, demonstration of quality, safety and efficacy is necessary before a product can be granted a marketing authorisation.

Key facts

Product details for <p>Homoharringtonine</p>
Active substanceHomoharringtonine
Medicine Name
Disease/conditionTreatment of acute myeloid leukaemia
Date of decision20/10/2004
Orphan decision numberEU/3/04/228

Review of designation

Sponsor’s contact details

Teva Pharma GmbH
Graf-Arco-Str. 3
89079 Ulm
Tel. +49 6105 97 676 17
Fax +49 6105 97 767 60

Patients' organisations

For contact details of patients’ organisations whose activities are targeted at rare diseases, see:

  • Orphanet, a database containing information on rare diseases, which includes a directory of patients’ organisations registered in Europe;
  • European Organisation for Rare Diseases (EURORDIS), a non-governmental alliance of patient organisations and individuals active in the field of rare diseases.