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Orphan designation

On 11 November 2015, orphan designation (EU/3/15/1577) was granted by the European Commission to Athena Vision Ltd, United Kingdom, for adenovirus associated viral vector serotype 5 containing the human RPE65 gene for the treatment of Leber’s congenital amaurosis.

What is Leber’s congenital amaurosis?

Leber’s congenital amaurosis is an inherited disease characterised by loss of sight at birth or soon after birth. The disease is linked to a number of genetic defects, which affect the normal development of the light-sensitive cells in the eye.

Leber’s congenital amaurosis is a long-term debilitating disease due to progressive loss of vision.

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

At the time of designation, Leber’s congenital amaurosis affected less than 1 in 10,000 people in the European Union (EU). This was equivalent to a total of fewer than 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 28), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This represents a population of 512,900,000 (Eurostat 2015).

What treatments are available?

At the time of designation, no satisfactory methods were authorised in the EU for treating Leber's congenital amaurosis. Patients with the condition usually received genetic counselling on the risks of passing the condition on to their children, regular medical follow up, and use of vision aids.

How is this medicine expected to work?

One form of Leber’s congenital amaurosis is caused by a defect in the gene RPE65, which is responsible for the production of a protein called RPE65. This protein has a key role in the correct functioning of the light-sensitive cells of the eye.

This medicine is made of a virus that contains a normal copy of the RPE65 gene. When injected into the patient’s eye, it is expected that the virus will carry the RPE65 gene into cells of the eye, enabling them to work normally and thereby helping to improve the patient’s sight.

The type of virus used in this medicine (‘adeno-associated virus’) does not cause disease in humans.

What is the stage of development of this medicine?

The effects of the medicine have been evaluated in experimental models.

At the time of submission of the application for orphan designation, no clinical trials with the medicine in patients with Leber’s congenital amaurosis had been started.

At the time of submission, the medicine was not authorised anywhere in the EU for Leber’s congenital amaurosis 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 8 October 2015 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>Adenovirus associated viral vector serotype 5 containing the human <em>RPE65</em> gene</p>
Active substanceAdenovirus associated viral vector serotype 5 containing the human RPE65 gene
Medicine Name
Disease/conditionTreatment of Leber’s congenital amaurosis
Date of decision11/11/2015
Orphan decision numberEU/3/15/1577

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

Athena Vision Ltd
c/o UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
11-43 Bath St
London EC1V 9EL
United Kingdom
Tel. +44 (0)20 7608 6800

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.