updated 1/20/2010 3:45:56 PM ET 2010-01-20T20:45:56

Drugmakers appear to be focusing more on research into treatments for rare diseases, according to a survey by Tufts University.

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The survey suggested that applications for orphan drug approvals doubled during the last decade.

Orphan drugs are treatments for very rare diseases that are often genetic. Governments often provide incentives like tax credits and extended protection from generic competition to encourage the research.

The Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development says the Food and Drug Administration granted orphan drug status to 425 experimental products between 2006 and 2008, up from 208 between 2000 and 2002.

In the U.S., a product can be designated an orphan drug if it is meant to treat an illness than affects fewer than 200,000 people. In Europe, it goes to drugs for diseases affecting five out of every 10,000 people.

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