The World Health Organization (WHO) just gave a game-changing breast cancer treatment its stamp of approval.
The WHO prequalified its first biosimilar (meaning an affordable copy) of the medicine trastuzumab on Wednesday. Trastuzumab has shown high efficacy in curing early-stage breast cancer and, in some cases, more advanced forms of the disease, according to the WHO. Prequalification from the WHO gives countries the guarantee that they’re purchasing quality health products. This is the first biosimilar out of a few that were introduced over the past years to be prequalified by the WHO.
Trastuzumab is an antibody and was categorized by the WHO as an essential medicine for about 20% of breast cancers. First released in 2006 by a company by the Netherlands, trastuzumab sparked debate in the UK about who could afford to use it, according to the Guardian. The drug usually costs around $20,000 per treatment period, making it an unavailable option for many women and health care systems in most countries. The biosimilar version is around 65% cheaper.
#Breastcancer is the most common form of cancer in women.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 18, 2019
2.1 million women contracted breast cancer in 2018.
630,000 of them died from the disease, many because of late diagnosis and lack of access to affordable treatment https://t.co/wn1iYq5m22pic.twitter.com/py0obXf3E0
Prices for biosimilar trastuzumab should decrease even more as the WHO is expected to prequalify more products. Some other versions of the drug are already available for around $4,000, but without approval from the WHO, they can’t be sold in every country.
“Women in many cultures suffer from gender disparity when it comes to accessing health services,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in a news release. “In poor countries, there is the added burden of a lack of access to treatment for many, and the high cost of medicines. Effective, affordable breast cancer treatment should be a right for all women, not the privilege of a few.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. In 2018, 2.1 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 630,000 of them died from the disease. Many of these women could have survived if it weren’t for late diagnosis and lack of access to affordable treatment, according to the WHO.
WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that by 2040 the number of diagnosed breast cancers will reach 3.1 million, with the greatest increase in low-and middle-income countries. Lack of screening programs, health education, and inadequate funding all attribute to the rise of breast cancer in developing countries.
“WHO prequalification of biosimilar trastuzumab is good news for women everywhere,” Dr. Tedros said.