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Orphan designation

On 20 October 2003, orphan designation (EU/3/03/168) was granted by the European Commission to MolMed SpA, Italy, for herpes simplex 1 virus-thymidine kinase and truncated low affinity nerve growth factor receptor transfected donor lymphocytes for the adjunctive treatment of haematopoietic cell transplantation.

What is haematopoietic cell transplantation?

Haematopoietic cells are cells that can produce mature blood cells. They can be found in the bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside the large bones in the body and in low concentrations in the peripheral blood. In certain haematological diseases, where the bone marrow is not able to produce mature blood cells, it is appropriate to use a treatment called transplantation, which consists in replacing the abnormal cells of the immune system and bone marrow with healthy cells generally either from the same person (autologous) or from a donor (allogenic). A severe complication of allogenic haematopoietic cell transplantation is the development of a disease called Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD). This complication involves a reaction between the donor cells (graft) and the recipient's native tissues (host) leading to injury of the recipient’s tissues. Severe graft versus host disease can be largely avoided by the removal of certain white blood cells, the so-called T lymphocytes, from the graft before it is administered to the recipient patient. However, a strong reduction of these T cell increases the incidence of disease relapse, rejection of the transplant and occurrence of viral infections. Therefore, in case of relapse, delayed administration of donor T cells may be used. However, severe graft versus host disease represents a relatively frequent and potentially life-threatening complication of delayed infusion of donor T cells.

What are the methods of treatment available?

There are several classes of authorised medicinal products such as anti-infectives (given in order to prevent infection with some viruses or fungi), growth factors, serum-prophylaxis agents, and vaccines, which are used as additional treatment. Gancyclovir is authorised in the Community as an additional treatment (or adjunctive treatment) of the condition, in order to prevent infections with some viruses. However, there are no products authorised to improve the treatment with donor lymphocytes, which may be the case for the product subject to this designation.

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

According to the information provided by the sponsor approximately 8,000 patients are treated with haematopoietic cell transplantation each year in the European Union.

*Disclaimer: The number of patients affected by the condition is estimated and assessed for the purpose of the designation, for a European Community population of 385,000,000 (Eurostat 2002) and may differ from the true number of patients affected by the condition. This estimate is based on available information and calculations presented by the sponsor at the time of the application.

How is this medicinal product expected to act?

Cells involved in the immune response called T-lymphocytes are isolated from the donor and inoculated (transfected) with a viral gene (herpes simplex 1 virus –thymidine kinase) which makes them particularly susceptible to an antiviral medicine called gancyclovir. Therefore, once these Tlymphocyte cells containing the viral gene are administered to the recipient patient they can be eliminated (destroyed) by treatment with gancyclovir in case that they start to react against the
recipient tissues, namely when the risk of the development of graft versus host disease is imminent. Associated to the viral gene, herpes simplex 1 virus-thymidine kinase, these cells receive also an additional gene which is used as a marker for selecting only the cells in which the transfection was successful before the administration to the recipient patient.

What is the stage of development of this medicinal product?

At the time of submission of the application for orphan designation, clinical trials in patients treated with haematopoietic cell transplantation were ongoing.

The proposed medicinal product was not marketed anywhere worldwide for the adjunctive treatment of haematopoietic cell transplantation or designated as orphan medicinal product elsewhere for this condition, at the time of submission.

According to Regulation (EC) No 141/2000 of 16 December 1999, the Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products (COMP) adopted on 10 September 2003 a positive opinion recommending the grant of the above-mentioned designation.

Opinions on orphan medicinal products designations are based on the following cumulative criteria:
  • the seriousness of the condition,
  • the existence or not of alternative methods of diagnosis, prevention or treatment and 
  • either the rarity of the condition (considered to affect not more than five in ten thousand persons in the Community) or the insufficient return of development investments.

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

Key facts

Product details for <p>Herpes simplex 1 virus-thymidine kinase and truncated low affinity nerve growth factor receptor transfected donor lymphocytes</p>
Active substanceHerpes simplex 1 virus-thymidine kinase and truncated low affinity nerve growth factor receptor transfected donor lymphocytes
Medicine Name
Disease/conditionAdjunctive treatment in haematopoietic cell transplantation
Date of decision20/10/2003
Orphan decision numberEU/3/03/168

Review of designation

Related information

Sponsor’s contact details:

MolMed SpA
Via Olgettina 58
Telephone: +39 02 21 27 73 21
Telefax: +39 02 21 27 72 20

Patients’ associations contact points:

Leukaemia Care
2 Shrubbery Avenue
United Kingdom
0800 169 6680 (freephone for UK residents)
Telephone: +44 19 05 33 00 03 / + 44 84 57 67 32 03
Telefax: +44 19 05 33 00 90

Associazione Italiana contro le Leucemie-linfomi e mieloma ONLUS
Via Ravenna 34
00161 Roma
Telephone: +39 06 44 03 763
Telefax: +39 06 44 04 226

Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer
13 Av. de la Grande Armee
75116 Paris
Telephone: +33 1 45 00 00 17
Tefefax: +33 1 45 00 63 06