• Email
  • Help

Orphan designation

On 5 August 2011, orphan designation (EU/3/11/885) was granted by the European Commission to Targovax AS, Norway, for a mixture of seven synthetic fragments consisting of p21 RAS peptides for treatment of pancreatic cancer.

In October 2016, Targovax AS changed name to Targovax ASA.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the pancreas, a small organ that lies behind the stomach. The pancreas has two functions: to produce a juice that helps with the digestion of food, and to produce hormones such as insulin. Due to the absence of symptoms in the early stages of pancreatic cancer, the majority of patients are diagnosed when the cancer has spread locally or to other parts of the body.

Pancreatic cancer is a very severe and life-threatening disease that is associated with shortened life expectancy.

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

At the time of designation, pancreatic cancer affected approximately 1 in 10,000 people in the European Union (EU)*. This is equivalent to a total of around 51,000 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 27), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This represents a population of 506,300,000 (Eurostat 2011).

What treatments are available?

At the time of designation, several medicines were authorised in the EU for treating pancreatic cancer. The choice of treatment depended on several factors, including how far the disease had advanced. Treatments included surgery, radiotherapy (treatment with radiation) and chemotherapy (medicines to treat cancer).

The sponsor has provided sufficient information to show that the mixture of seven synthetic fragments consisting of p21 RAS peptides might be of significant benefit for patients with pancreatic cancer because of its new mechanism of action and the results of early studies, which show that it might improve the treatment of patients with this condition. This assumption will need to be confirmed at the time of marketing authorisation, in order to maintain the orphan status.

How is this medicine expected to work?

The medicine contains seven synthetic peptides (short chains of amino acids) that are also found in a protein called ‘p21 RAS’. The peptides contain mutations which are normally only expressed by certain cancer cells such as pancreatic cancer cells. The medicine is expected to act as a vaccine by ‘teaching’ the specialised cells of the body’s immune system called T cells (a type of white blood cell) to recognise the p21 RAS proteins containing the mutations. It is expected that this will lead the T cells to attack and kill the pancreatic cancer cells containing these proteins.

What is the stage of development of this medicine?

The effects of the mixture of seven synthetic fragments consisting of p21 RAS peptides have been evaluated in experimental models.

At the time of submission of the application for orphan designation, clinical trials with the medicinal product in patients with pancreatic cancer were ongoing.

At the time of submission, the medicinal product was not authorised anywhere in the EU for pancreatic cancer or designated as an orphan medicinal product elsewhere for this condition.

In accordance with Regulation (EC) No 141/2000 of 16 December 1999, the COMP adopted a positive opinion on 5 May 2011 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 EU) 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>Mixture of seven synthetic fragments consisting of p21 RAS peptides</p>
Active substanceMixture of seven synthetic fragments consisting of p21 RAS peptides
Medicine Name
Disease/conditionTreatment of pancreatic cancer
Date of decision05/08/2011
Orphan decision numberEU/3/11/885

Review of designation

The Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products reviews the orphan designation of a product if it is approved for marketing authorisation.

Sponsor’s contact details:

Targovax ASA
Lilleakerveien 2C
0283 Oslo
Telephone: +47 21 39 88 10

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.