There are ∼7000 rare diseases affecting 30 000 000 individuals in the U.S.A. 95% of these rare diseases do not have a single Food and Drug Administration-approved therapy. Relatively, limited progress has been made to develop new or repurpose existing therapies for these disorders, in part because traditional funding models are not as effective when applied to rare diseases. Due to the suboptimal research infrastructure and treatment options for Castleman disease, the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN), founded in 2012, spearheaded a novel strategy for advancing biomedical research, the ‘Collaborative Network Approach’. At its heart, the Collaborative Network Approach leverages and integrates the entire community of stakeholders — patients, physicians and researchers — to identify and prioritize high-impact research questions. It then recruits the most qualified researchers to conduct these studies. In parallel, patients are empowered to fight back by supporting research through fundraising and providing their biospecimens and clinical data. This approach democratizes research, allowing the entire community to identify the most clinically relevant and pressing questions; any idea can be translated into a study rather than limiting research to the ideas proposed by researchers in grant applications. Preliminary results from the CDCN and other organizations that have followed its Collaborative Network Approach suggest that this model is generalizable across rare diseases.

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