Cancer Drug Price Negotiations To Focus On Generics, Biosimilars

The UICC and WHO will negotiate for cheaper cancer drugs for low and low-middle-income countries via increased donations, tier pricing, or a voluntary licence mechanism.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 – The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) will negotiate prices with generic and biosimilar drugmakers for cancer drugs that are already on the essential medicines list as part of efforts to provide cheaper drug access for low and low-middle-income countries (LMICs). 

Both organisations have set their sights on obtaining effective cancer medication that meets the needs of cancer patients instead of prioritising newer technologies such as immunotherapy. 

“What we have done is engage with the pharma generic and biosimilar companies that produce medicines, which could be very effective in low-income countries to see whether or not we can find ways to get their medicines into those countries, either by increasing donations, by tier pricing or using a voluntary licence mechanism,” said UICC CEO Cary Adams at the World Cancer Congress 2022 press conference in Geneva last October 19.

UICC is the largest and oldest international cancer-fighting organisation and is based in Switzerland.

In stating the WHO’s stance, Dr Bente Mikkelsen, WHO’s director of non-communicable diseases, said: “What we do at WHO is we have, every six months, private sector dialogues where we have defined asks for most diseases, and we call for commitments to be able to increase the access to medicines and devices. 

“So on cancer, our focus is now, of course, the medicines that are already on the essential medicine list, but we don’t shy away also from innovative, newer drugs and devices.

“So I think what we have, during the last couple of years, is a very structured way to discuss this in a safe way as well. Trying to really combine the due diligence that needs to be there with the needs of the patients.”

The WHO’s Essential Medicines List contains medicines that satisfy the priority health care needs of a population. The medications are selected with due regard to disease and public health relevance, evidence of efficacy and safety and comparative cost-effectiveness. 

Drugs listed on the list are intended to be available in functioning health systems at all times, in appropriate dosage forms, of assured quality and at prices individuals and health systems can afford.

Newer treatments for cancer, such as immunotherapy, which has been shown to be effective against melanoma, can be extremely costly. For many patients suffering from cancer, the payment for such treatment would often have to come out of insurance plans and out-of-pocket payments.

National Cancer Society Malaysia managing director Dr Murallitharan Munisamy was previously quoted by Free Malaysia Today that “very few” patients would be able to benefit from innovative treatments such as immunotherapy in Malaysia due to prohibitive costs. 

According to Dr Murallitharan, only those with good insurance coverage and those being treated in private hospitals will have access to these treatments.

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