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WHO approves cheap version of ground-breaking breast cancer drug

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A cheap version of the ground-breaking breast cancer drug Herceptin has been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO), raising the possibility of lifesaving treatment for the first time for women in low-income countries, reports The Guardian.

Herceptin is the brand name of trastuzumab, a drug which by 2006 in the UK was the subject of a huge battle for access for the 20% of women with the type of cancer, called HER2+, that it targets. The report says it is now a standard treatment for women with HER2+ cancer in affluent countries, with a high cure rate, particularly in early cancers. The WHO listed it as an essential medicine for all countries to buy, but it has been unaffordable in much of the world, with a price tag of about $20,000 (£15,000) per patient.

The medicine, made by a company called Samsung Bioepis, was assessed by WHO and found comparable to the original in terms of efficacy, safety and quality. That means it is eligible for procurement by UN agencies and for national tenders.

The report says the price will be 65% lower than Herceptin itself, which at about $9,000 is still a burden for lower income countries, but it is expected that other companies will now come forward for WHO approval.

The Guardian report

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