WHO Adds New Hep C Drugs to Essential List but Lower Prices are Needed for Patient Access

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its list of essential drugs, adding new key hepatitis C drugs, but said that prices need to be reduced in order to be accessible to patients in poorer countries.

The agency added to the list of essential drugs five new direct acting oral antivirals for hepatitis C, including sofosbuvir and daclatasvir. But the agency said that high prices currently make them unaffordable and thus inaccessible to most people who require them.

Hepatitis C affects about 150 million people worldwide. The virus is responsible for killing half a million people each year, when chronic infection develops into liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. While hepatitis C is present in high- and lower-income countries alike, there is a higher concentration of people with the disease in several middle- and low-income countries.

Until recently, treatment for hepatitis C presented minimal therapeutic benefits and came with serious side effects.  The recent introduction of the five new essential hepatitis C drugs have transformed the disease from barely manageable to curable. Additionally, these new drugs have few side effects and high tolerance in patients.

“Treatments for hepatitis C are evolving rapidly, with several new, highly effective and safe medicines on the market and many in the development pipeline,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation. “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.”

Additionally, WHO added ground-breaking new treatments for a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and leukemia, and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB), among others. The agency updates the “Model List of Essential Medicines” every two years. It is updated by an expert committee comprised of recognized 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 drugs, some of which are currently too costly even for high-income countries.

“It is important to understand that the Essential Medicines List is the starting block and not the finishing line,” said Dr. Kieny. “Its purpose is to provide guidance for the prioritization of medicines from a clinical and public health perspective. The hard work begins with efforts to ensure that those medicines are actually available to patients.”

Source: World Health Organization

Last updated: 5/8/15; 11:45am EST

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