WHO Updates List of Essential Medicines and Diagnostic Tests

The World Health Organization (WHO) has added several new cancer drugs and diagnostics to the list of medicines and tests that it considers “essential” to every health care system. The latest updates to the “List of Essential Medicines” and “List of Essential Diagnostics” focus on cancer and other global health challenges, according to a statement from the WHO, “with an emphasis on effective solutions, smart prioritization, and optimal access for patients.”

The list of essential diagnostics, which was established in 2018, contains 46 general tests that can be used for routine patient care and 69 tests intended for the detection, diagnosis, and monitoring of specific diseases.

Twenty-eight medicines for adults and 23 for children have been added to the medicines list; in total, the list includes 460 products deemed essential for addressing public health needs, including treatment for myeloma and leukemia. Of note, the new list contains recently approved, high-priced immunotherapies.

“The inclusion in this list of some of the newest and most advanced cancer drugs is a strong statement that everyone deserves access to these lifesaving medicines, not just those who can afford them,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD.

The new medicines on the list were selected by a WHO expert committee and met criteria for providing a survival benefit of at least four months. Anticancer therapies that were added to the essential medicines list include:

  • nivolumab for the frontline treatment of unresectable and metastatic melanoma
  • bortezomib, lenalidomide, thalidomide, and melphalan for the treatment of newly diagnosed multiple myeloma
  • pegaspargase for the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia

The list also now includes direct oral anticoagulants as an alternative to warfarin for atrial fibrillation and treatment of deep vein thrombosis.

Source: World Health Organization press release, July 9, 2019.

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