Drugs for treating rare diseases can be as lucrative for drug companies as big blockbusters such as Lipitor, according to a report by Thomson Reuters. With a global market valued at $50 billion annually and with over 200 new rare diseases discovered every year, orphan drugs are expected to “outshine” their non-orphan counterparts over the next 30 years, the report said.

New indications for the rare diseases chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, for example, are a major reason why Roche and Biogen Idec's Rituxan (rituximab), which was originally intended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, is expected to make a lifetime revenue of $154 billion, Pharma Times reported—not a bad haul compared to the $197 billion Pfizer's Lipitor is expected to make over its lifetime.

Such examples provide "economic validity to the importance of targeting rare diseases in the global pharmaceutical market," Thomsom Reuter’s Kiran Meekings, who...

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