Perseverance in Rare Diseases

Anna, living with ASMD disease in Brazil

There are 7,000 known rare diseases in the world that collectively affect 350 million patients. For these patients and their families, the journey can be long and challenging. 

Sanofi has pledged to help improve the care, the health and the lives of people affected by a rare disease for nearly 40 years. Even when a therapy has been proven to work, Sanofi continues to find ways to do more to advance patient care and improve quality of life. Its approach is simple and rooted in perseverance–one family at a time.

Each person living with a rare disease has a different experience and, sometimes, drastically different needs. Symptoms and complications can be difficult and even life-threatening with few, if any, treatment options available. 

“Historically, we’ve been trailblazers in providing treatments for people with rare diseases, but there’s more work to be done. For us, this is both a marathon and a sprint,” said John Reed, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research & Development at Sanofi. “We must focus on developing the next generation of potential treatments while we concurrently investigate therapies for rare diseases where treatment options do not currently exist. Patients inspire us to persevere in our efforts.”

Searching for a treatment for acid sphingomyelinase deficiency (ASMD)

ASMD is a rare, progressive and potentially life-threatening lysosomal storage disorder (LSD) that results from the deficient activity of the enzyme acid sphingomyelinase (ASM). This enzyme is normally found in special compartments within cells called lysosomes and is required to breakdown lipids—a fatty substance in the cell—called sphingomyelin. If ASM is absent or not functioning as it should, sphingomyelin cannot be metabolized properly and accumulates within the cell, eventually causing cell death and the malfunction of major organ systems.  

Watch J.J. share his personal experience living with ASMD


While there are currently no treatments available for patients living with ASMD, Sanofi scientists continue to leverage their expertise in LSDs to find one. Patients like J.J., who are living with these difficult conditions, inspire our work in the lab and beyond.

Investigating next-generation therapies

The first ten years of Sanofi’s research in rare diseases focused primarily on finding a treatment for one type of LSD called Gaucher disease. Its success established Sanofi’s leadership in the rare disease community. Over the next two decades, the company expanded its focus to include other LSDs including Fabry disease, Pompe disease, and Mucopolysaccharidosis I (MPS I).

However, it did not stop once a treatment was discovered.

“From researching new therapies to learning first-hand about quality of life concerns and the long-term burden of rare diseases, we are not only dedicated to supporting the needs those impacted, but act with posterity in mind,” said Shannon Resetich, Global Head of Rare Diseases. “Our ambition is to break the existing therapeutic ceiling for certain rare diseases or be the first to provide a safe and effective treatment option. For the past 40 years, our entire team has proven that we will persevere.”

Providing support beyond treatment

Living with a rare disease can be isolating and lonely, so it is equally important to support each patient by connecting them and their families to each other and to advocacy organizations. 

“Patient advocacy organizations are crucial to educating and advocating for people living with rare diseases and their families. In addition, patient advocacy groups can help to inform people living with rare diseases about on-going research that can lead to the development of new therapies,” said Scott Williams, Global Head of Public Affairs for Rare Diseases and Rare Blood Disorders at Sanofi.  “All of us at Sanofi are incredibly grateful for the perspective, collaboration, and voice that patient advocacy organizations bring to the rare disease community every day.” 


From L-R Heather, Tami, Christy and Michelle, four sisters who all suffer from Fabry disease–photographed together in 2019

Creating a sisterhood of support was always an important way of coping for sisters Christy, Heather, Michelle and Tami, who face the challenges of living with Fabry disease. “We could see the impact of Fabry disease on our father and uncles, and we were able to share information and support with each other–and that made a tremendous difference,” said Christy. 

Her sister Tami adds, “You learn very quickly that Fabry disease affects every part of your life. Whether it is being a wife or mother or having a career, there are certainly days when I feel like I dropped the ball.”

Sanofi believes in the power of supporting health from the molecular level to emotional and social wellness. With approximately 350 million people living with a rare disease across the globe, this task can seem daunting. Sanofi’s approach is simple—one patient at a time; one family connected to necessary resources; one physician educated; one advocacy organization supported; and one legislator informed.

Related links

Targeting a Single Pathway to Impact a Range of Rare Diseases
20 Years of Humanitarian Support in Egypt: Amr’s Story
Sanofi Genzyme’s Humanitarian Programs Help Patients Worldwide
A Sisterhood of Support Growing Up with Fabry Disease
Rare Diseases
 
Living With a Rare Disease: J.J. Shares His Story