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"Orphan Diseases"

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WASHINGTON (Oct. 18) - The U.S. Senate Thursday approved legislation that would double annual federal authorization for grants to companies to do research on rare diseases.


The House of Representatives earlier this month approved the measure and it now goes to President Bush for his signature.


The bill authorizes $25 million for a Food and Drug Administration grant program that lawmakers have credited with development of 23 drugs and four medical devices for so-called orphan diseases. That is up from the current $12 million authorized.


Rare, or "orphan" diseases, are defined as those affecting fewer than 200,000 Americans. The National Institutes of Health has identified more than 6,000 rare diseases that affect a total of 25 million people.


Because the market for treating each disease is relatively small, the government has created incentives for pharmaceutical companies and others to study tests and treatments for orphan therapies.


The Senate passed a separate companion bill and sent it to Bush that would establish a distinct Office of Rare Diseases within NIH. The office currently falls under the director's office.

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