Funding for rare disorders

PHARMAC understands that people living with rare disorders face many challenges. These include access to suitable health care and effective medicines.

On this page

We encourage funding applications from suppliers or clinicians for medicines for rare disorders. We also scan the horizon for new medicines and might start an application ourselves.

Funding medicines for rare disorders

Anyone can make an application for a medicine to be funded for a rare disorder.

Policy principles for rare disorders

Funding applications for rare disorder medicines need to meet these three policy principles.

  1. Medsafe, or an approved international regulatory authority, has approved the medicine for the specific indication or condition.
  2. The disorder is a clinically defined disorder that affects an identifiable and measurable patient population of less than 1:50,000 in New Zealand.
  3. The medicine is only registered to treat the rare disorder. If it is registered for other disorders (or is part of phase three clinical trials for other disorders), those other disorders must meet principle 2.

If the intent of all three principles is met, PHARMAC will accept an application for a rare disorders medicine and progress it. From there, we seek clinical advice from our expert advisory committees.

Medsafe approval

Suppliers of rare disorders medicines don't need Medsafe approval before applying to PHARMAC (Principle 1 notwithstanding). This differs from the funding application process for most other medicines. However, the medicine must be Medsafe-approved before a final decision can be made to fund it.

This flexibility enables us to consider funding applications before a Medsafe approves a medicine.

Next steps

The Rare Disorders Subcommittee considers the funding application. It reviews the evidence for health benefit and need, then makes a recommendation to the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) and PHARMAC.

As with all medicines, if the Rare Disorders Subcommittee or PTAC recommend the application be declined, we may not progress the application any further. We would only reconsider the funding application if we receive additional information or new evidence.

If the Rare Disorders Subcommittee or PTAC make a positive recommendation, PHARMAC then ranks the funding application against all other funding applications to determine the next best investment.

About the Rare Disorders Subcommittee

The members include some of New Zealand’s leading experts in treating rare disorders. The members’ specialties include:

  • paediatric nephrology
  • metabolic disorders
  • blood disorders
  • neurology.

One member is an Australian genetics and metabolic disorders specialist. They have been involved in Australia’s Life Saving Drugs Programme (LSDP).

The Rare Disorders Subcommittee assesses applications in the context of rare disorders treatments and bases its recommendations on:

  • PHARMAC’s Factors for Consideration and
  • their own clinical expertise.

Subcommittee meetings

The subcommittee met in September 2019 to discuss:

Factors for Consideration for rare disorders

PHARMAC applies its Factors for Consideration to all funding decisions we make. The factors most relevant to our consideration of medicines for rare disorders are:

  • Health need of the person – rare disorders can often be debilitating and severe. People with a rare disorder are often considered to have a high health need.
  • The availability and suitability of existing medicines, medical devices and treatments. People with rare disorders often have limited alternative treatment options available.
  • Health needs of others. Caring for a person with a rare disorder can impact on the health of those caring for them.

Read more about the Factors for Consideration

Horizon scanning for new medicines

PHARMAC is always looking for new rare disorders medicines. As we learn of new information, we may approach suppliers or clinicians and encourage them to submit a funding application. On occasion we may start a funding application ourselves.

Our clinical advisers also stay up to date with the latest medicines on the market or in clinical trials through their professional practice.

History of funding rare disorder medicines

We haven't always taken this approach. After wide consultation in 2014, we ran a contestable funding pilot with an RFP and separate pool of funds.

The pilot was reviewed by PHARMAC and an independent consultant. As a result, new medicines were funded and listed on the Pharmaceutical Schedule. While we didn't continue with the RFP approach, the pilot informed our current policy principles (above), which have been in place since 2018.

Documents covering our history of funding rare disorders medicines

2019 report: Funding medicines for rare disorders [PDF, 6.4 MB]

2017 Evaluation of PHARMAC’s commercial approach to fund medicines for rare disorders by Grant Thornton [PDF, 514 KB]

15 August 2014 – RFP – Supply of medicines for rare disorders

8 July 2014 – Consultation – "Contestable fund for medicines for rare disorders"

Who to contact

If you have any questions about PHARMAC’s work on rare disorders, email