Wednesday, 29 May, 2024
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Priciest cancer drugs bumped off WHO’s medicines list

Several exorbitantly priced medicines, including some breast and lung cancer drugs, have been excluded from the updated Essentials Medicines List (EML) and Essential Medicines List for Children (EML) released by the World Health Organisation last week.

But added for the first time are drugs for multiple sclerosis and new ones for CVD, Health Policy Watch reports.

Among the newly recommended EML cancer drugs is a treatment for Kaposi sarcoma, and another to stimulate the production of white blood cells to reduce the toxic effect of some cancer medicines on bone marrow, as well as the extension of some children’s cancer treatments to cover three additional cancers.

Access to medicines is a major issue for cancer patients, and the 30% survival rate for children with cancer in low-income countries, compared with more than 90% for children in high-income countries, reflects this, said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Only 25% of low-income countries covered childhood cancer medicines in their health benefit packages, he added.

A major determinant of survival for children with cancer is “where you live in the world”, said James Downing, CEO of New York City’s St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“In developed countries, we have made incredible progress against paediatric cancer with cure rates approaching 90% for many of the more common paediatric cancers. Yet the rest of the world has been left behind.”

In 2021, St Jude Hospital announced it would contribute $200m over six years to improve access to cancer drugs for kids via the Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines, an initiative in collaboration with the WHO.

This aims to provide free cancer medicines to low- and middle-income countries – focusing first on six of the most common cancers that cause more than half of childhood cancers, and raise survival rates to at least 60% in these countries by 2030.

The platform is being piloted in six countries initially, with Unicef as a collaborating partner.

MS drugs on EML for first time

In other new EML additions, medicines for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) have been included on the essential medicines list for the first time ever, along with new treatments for cardiovascular conditions and infectious diseases.

Three medicines that can slow MS – cladribine, glatiramer acetate and rituximab – have been added. Multiple sclerosis affects 2.8m people worldwide.

Also added to the list for the first time are fixed-dose combinations of multiple medicines (“polypills”) to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

Other additions –for infectious diseases – to the the new EML include:

• ceftolozane + tazobactam, effective against multi-drug resistant bacteria, including difficult-to-treat infections caused by carbapenem-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa; a “reserve” group antibiotic, under WHO’s three-tiered  “AWaRe” system for judicious antibiotic use, to be used when other treatments have failed.
• pretomanid to treat multidrug-resistant or rifampicin-resistant TB;
• ravidasvir (to be used in combination with sofosbuvir) for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus infection in adults;
• monoclonal antibodies for Ebola.

Altogether, the recommended changes bring the number of medicines on the WHO essential medicines list, which is updated every two years, to 502 drugs for adults and to 361 for the essential medicines list for children.


Health Policy Watch article – Some Cancer Drugs Excluded from New WHO Essential Medicines List Because of Cost (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Cost of key cancer drug drops after generics victory


Unaffordable breast cancer medicines are killing SA women


Autoimmune disease patients' challenge to access medicines


No association between price and efficacy of cancer drugs — four-nation study


Removal of Tamiflu from WHO Essential Medicines list comes ‘far too late’






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