The European Medicines Agency has just recommended extending use of an existing drug, nitisinone (Orfadin), to treat alkaptonuria (AKU). AKU holds a special place in the history of genetics as the first "inborn error of metabolism" described. It affects one in 250,000 to one in a million people.
The route to impending approval took two decades, illustrating factors that make the quest to discover, develop, and deliver a treatment for a very rare disease so challenging. There's no "Operation Warp Speed" for the rare disease community. Sometimes there aren't even enough participants to carry out a clinical trial that is controlled, relying instead on comparisons to the natural history of a disease, or enrolling one patient at a time in an "N+1" study.
I last wrote about AKU in 2014, calling it "black pee disease." I'm happy to report now on the progress in Europe, but won't use that attention-grabbing descriptor, because it minimizes the severity.
A Peculiar Condition and an Astute Physician
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