Infographic: Which Rare Diseases Are The Most Common?
Pharmaceuticals have come a long way since the apothecary days of prescribing cocaine drops for toothaches, or dispensing tapeworm diet pills.
Today, medical breakthroughs like antibiotics and vaccines save millions of lives, and contribute to the industry’s mammoth size. Yet even with rapid advancements, a select group of rare diseases still fly under the radar — and together, they affect over 350 million people worldwide.
What Are Rare Diseases?
Today’s infographic from Raconteur breaks down occurrence rates of notable rare diseases, and their collective impact on pharmaceutical drug sales. But first, let’s look at how they’re defined.
Diseases are considered rare, or “orphan” if they affect only a small proportion of the population. In general, it’s estimated that 1 in 17 people will be afflicted by a rare disease in their lifetime. At the same time, as many as 7,000 rare diseases exist, with more discovered every year.
A report by the global investment bank Torreya looks at the most common types of rare diseases that are a focus for therapeutic companies around the world:
- Multiple sclerosis emerges above all others, at 90 patients per 100,000 people.
- Narcolepsy—intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of sleepiness—affects 50 patients per 100,000.
- Primary biliary cholangitis, the damage of bile ducts in the liver, affects 40 people in 100,000.
- Rounding out the top five orphan diseases are Fabry disease (30 patients per 100,000), and cystic fibrosis (25 patients per 100,000).
One catch behind these stats? There’s actually no universal definition of what constitutes a rare disease. This means prevalence data like the above is often inconsistent, making it difficult to record the precise rate of natural occurrence.
The Cost of Rare Diseases
This gap in knowledge comes at a price—many rare diseases have constrained options for treatment. Orphan drugs are often commercially underdeveloped, as their limited end-market usage means they aren’t usually profitable enough for traditional research.
In the United States, government-backed incentives such as tax credits for R&D costs and clinical trials are speeding up the pathways from drug to market. Other places like the EU, Japan, and Australia are also following suit.
In total, it’s estimated that pharma companies focused on rare diseases are worth about half a trillion in enterprise value, roughly equal to 17.5% of the value of Big Pharma:
- Non-oncology value: $315.7B
- Oncology value: $193.1B
- Total enterprise value: $508.8B
Source: Torreya Report. Market values are for the top 31 pure play rare disease therapeutic companies.
The average cost of an orphan drug per U.S. patient annually can climb to near $151,000 (a whopping 4.5 times that of a non-orphan drug, at $34,000). That’s why the pharma industry is urgently advancing rare disease therapeutics across different categories.
Dominant Orphan Drug Sales
According to other estimates, orphan drugs are set to capture over one-fifth of global prescription sales by 2024. Blood, central nervous system, and respiratory-related drugs are currently the top therapeutic categories and are expected to keep this status into the future.
The figures below break down global orphan drug sales by therapy category, and their present and estimated future market share. Note that oncology-related orphan drug sales are excluded from this table.
|Therapy Category||2018 Sales||Market Share||2024E Sales||Market Share||Change in Market Share|
|Central nervous system (CNS)||$11.1B||16.3%||$20.3B||17.1%||0.8%|
Source: EvaluatePharma. Industry sales are based on the top 500 pharma and biotech companies.
Much is still unknown about rare diseases in the health community. Frequent misdiagnosis, and up to an average of 8 years for an accurate diagnosis, continue to be a problem for patients.
There are two sides to the situation. On one, tech giants like Microsoft are providing digital health solutions to speed up diagnosis, through machine learning and blockchain-based patient registry.
On the other, many skeptics question whether the industry is interested in finding cures for rare diseases at all, especially when they account for a significant portion of industry revenues.
Is curing patients a sustainable business model?
Charted: Healthcare Spending and Life Expectancy, by Country
This graphic looks at average life expectancies in countries around the world, compared to each country’s healthcare spending per capita.
Charted: Healthcare Spending and Life Expectancy, by Country
Over the last century, life expectancy at birth has more than doubled across the globe, largely thanks to innovations and discoveries in various medical fields around sanitation, vaccines, and preventative healthcare.
Yet, while the average life expectancy for humans has increased significantly on a global scale, there’s still a noticeable gap in average life expectancies between different countries.
What’s the explanation for this divide? According to World Bank data compiled by Truman Du, it may be partially related to the amount of money a country spends on its healthcare.
More Spending Generally Means More Years
The latest available data from the World Bank includes both the healthcare spending per capita of 178 different countries and their average life expectancy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the analysis found that countries that spent more on healthcare tended to have higher average life expectancies up until reaching the 80-year mark.
|Country||Health expenditure per capita (USD, 2019)||Life expectancy at birth, total (years, 2020)|
|United Arab Emirates||$1,843||78|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||$554||78|
|Antigua and Barbuda||$760||77|
|Iran, Islamic Rep.||$470||77|
|Trinidad and Tobago||$1,168||74|
|St. Vincent and the Grenadines||$355||73|
|Egypt, Arab Rep.||$150||72|
|Sao Tome and Principe||$108||71|
|Papua New Guinea||$65||65|
|Congo, Dem. Rep.||$21||61|
However, there were a few slight exceptions. For instance, while the United States has the largest spending of any country included in the dataset, its average life expectancy of 77 years is lower than many other countries that spend far less per capita.
What’s going on in the United States? While there are several intermingling factors at play, some researchers believe a big contributor is the country’s higher infant mortality rate, along with its higher relative rate of violence among young adults.
On the other end of the spectrum, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have the highest life expectancies on the list despite their relatively low spending per capita.
It’s worth mentioning that this wasn’t always the case—in the 1960s, Japan’s life expectancy was actually the lowest among the G7 countries, and South Korea’s was below 60 years, making it one of the top 30 countries by improved life expectancy:
View the full-size infographic
In fact, the last 60 years have seen many countries substantially increase their average life expectancies from the 30-40 year range to 70+ years. But as the header chart shows, there are still many countries lagging behind in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
How High Can Average Life Expectancy Go?
Since people are living longer than they’ve ever lived before, how much higher will average life expectancies be in another 100 years?
Recent research published in Nature Communications suggests that, under the right circumstances, human beings have the potential to live up to 150 years.
Projections from the UN predict that growth will be divided, with developed countries seeing higher life expectancies than developing regions.
However, as seen in the above chart from the World Economic Forum and using UN data, it’s likely the gap between developed and developing countries will narrow over time.
Visualizing the Composition of Blood
Despite its simple appearance, blood is made up of many microscopic elements. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood.
The Composition of Blood
Have you ever wondered what blood is made up of?
With the average adult possessing five to six liters of blood in the body, this fluid is vital to our lives, circulating oxygen through the body and serving many different functions.
Despite its simple, deep-red appearance, blood is comprised of many tiny chemical components. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood and the microscopic contents in it.
What is Blood Made Up Of?
There are two main components that comprise blood:
- Plasma – 55%
Plasma is the fluid or aqueous part of blood, making up more than half of blood content.
- Formed elements – 45%
Formed elements refer to the cells, platelets, and cell fragments that are suspended in the plasma.
Plasma is primarily made up of water (91%), salts, and enzymes, but it also carries important proteins and components that serve many bodily functions.
Plasma proteins make up 7% of plasma contents and are created in the liver. These include:
These proteins keep fluids from leaking out of blood vessels into other parts of the body. They also transport important molecules like calcium and help neutralize toxins.
These play an important role in clotting blood and fighting infections and are also transporters of hormones, minerals, and fats.
- Fibrinogen and Prothrombin
Both of these proteins help stop bleeding by facilitating the creation of blood clots during wound-healing.
Water and proteins make up 98% of plasma in blood. The other 2% is made up of small traces of chemical byproducts and cellular waste, including electrolytes, glucose, and other nutrients.
There are three categories of formed elements in blood: platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells make up 99% of formed elements, with the other 1% comprised of platelets and white blood cells.
- Platelets (Thrombocytes)
Platelets are cells from the immune system with the primary function of forming clots to reduce bleeding from wounds. This makes them critical not only for small wounds like cuts but also for surgeries and traumatic injuries.
- White blood cells (Leukocytes)
White blood cells protect our bodies from infection. There are five types of white blood cells with different roles in fighting infections: some attack foreign cells and viruses, some produce antibodies, some clean up dead cells, and some respond to allergens.
- Red blood cells (Erythrocytes)
Red blood cells deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients all over the body. They contain a special protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen and gives blood its bright red color.
The lifespan of a typical red blood cell is around 120 days, after which it dies and is replaced by a new cell. Our bodies are constantly producing red blood cells in the bone marrow, at a rate of millions of cells per second.
Abnormal Red Blood Cells
Normal red blood cells are round, flattened disks that are thinner in the middle. However, certain diseases and medical therapies can change the shape of red blood cells in different ways.
Here are the types of abnormal red blood cells and their associated diseases:
Sickle cell anemia is a well-known disease that affects the shape of red blood cells. Unlike normal, round red blood cells, cells associated with sickle cell disease are crescent- or sickle-shaped, which can slow and block blood flow.
Other common causes of abnormally shaped red blood cells are thalassemia, hereditary blood disorders, iron deficiency anemia, and liver disease. Identifying abnormal blood cells plays an important role in diagnosing the underlying causes and in finding treatments.
The Functions of Blood
We know that blood is vital, but what does it actually do in the body?
For starters, here are some of the functions of blood:
- Blood transports oxygen to different parts of the body, providing an energy source. It also delivers carbon dioxide to the lungs for exhalation.
- The platelets, white blood cells, and plasma proteins in blood play an important role in fighting infections and clotting.
- Blood transports the body’s waste products to the kidneys and liver, which filter it and recirculate clean blood.
- Blood helps regulate the body’s internal temperature by absorbing and distributing heat throughout the body.
While we all know that we can’t live without blood, it serves many different functions in the body that we often don’t notice. For humans and many other organisms alike, blood is an integral component that keeps us alive and going.
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