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WHO warns on hepatitis C drug pricing

The global health body adds new therapies to its ‘essential medicines’ list

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The World Health Organization has added a wave of new hep C, tuberculosis and cancer treatments to its list of essential medicines - but has urged pharma firms to lower their prices. 

The move opens the way to improve access to innovative medicines that show clear clinical benefits and could have enormous public health impact globally.

The latest edition of the Model List of Essential Medicines includes the new hepatitis C pills from Gilead's Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) Bristol-Myers Squibb's Daklinza (daclatasvir), which are two of the most expensive non-biologics on the market.

Until recently, treatment for the disease presented minimal therapeutic benefits and serious side effects. Five new medicines – direct acting oral antivirals – have recently come on the market transforming chronic hepatitis C from a barely manageable to a curable condition, the new medicines have few side effects and high tolerance in patients. 

In a statement WHO warns that whilst highly innovative, their “high prices currently make them unaffordable and thus inaccessible to most people who need them”.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general for health systems and innovation. “Treatments for hepatitis C are evolving rapidly, with several new, highly effective and safe medicines on the market and many in the development pipeline.

“While some efforts have been made to reduce their price for low-income countries, without uniform strategies to make these medicines more affordable globally the potential for public health gains will be reduced considerably.”

Increasingly, governments and institutions around the world are using the WHO list to guide the development of their own essential medicines lists, because they know that every medicine listed has been vetted for efficacy, safety and quality, and that there has been a comparative cost-effectiveness evaluation with other alternatives in the same class of medicines.

The list is updated every two years by an Expert Committee, made up of recognised specialists from academia, research and the medical and pharmaceutical professions. 

This year, the committee underscored the urgent need to take action to promote equitable access and use of several new highly effective medicines, some of which are currently too costly even for high-income countries.

As well as new drugs for hep C as well as for cancer and TB, the Committee also recommended supporting off-label uses in cases where there is clear evidence of major health benefits, though no licensed indication, such as for many medicines for children.

Article by
Ben Adams

11th May 2015

From: Healthcare

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