RESPITE may have come the way of people living with diabetes and cancer as the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved new drugs for treating the conditions in the latest edition of its Model Lists of Essential Medicines and Essential Medicines for Children.
The new lists published on Friday contain new treatments for various cancers, insulin analogues and new oral medicines for diabetes, new medicines to assist people who want to stop smoking, and new antimicrobials to treat severe bacterial and fungal infections.
The lists aim to address global health priorities and identify the medicines that provide the best benefits and should be available and affordable for all.
Insulin had been used for treating diabetes prior to the approval of the new drugs.
Insulin was discovered 100 years ago. It has been on WHO’s List of Essential Medicines since it was first published in 1977.
But limited insulin supply and high product prices in several low- and middle-income countries have been a barrier to treatment, WHO said.
The organisation said the amount of insulin needed for a month would cost a worker the equivalent of 5.5 days of pay per month in Accra, Ghana.
It said insulin production was concentrated in a small number of manufacturing facilities, and three manufacturers controlled most of its global market.
The lack of competition has resulted in high prices that were prohibitive for many people and health systems, the agency said.
Consequently, the organisation has added long-acting insulin analogues (insulin degludec, detemir and glargine) for treating diabetes.
The WHO said it added the drugs’ biosimilars and human insulin to the list to increase access to diabetes treatment, thereby expanding treatment choice.
“Long-acting insulin analogues offer some extra clinical benefits for patients through their prolonged duration of action, which ensures that blood glucose levels can be controlled over longer periods of time without needing a booster dose.
“They offer particular benefit for patients who experience dangerously low blood glucose levels with human insulin. The greater flexibility in timing and dosing of insulin analogues has been shown to improve quality of life for patients living with diabetes. However, human insulin remains a staple in the treatment of diabetes and access to this life-saving medicine must continue to be supported through better availability and affordability.”
The WHO said the lists included Sodium-Glucose Co-transporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors empagliflozin, canagliflozin and dapagliflozin as second-line therapy in adults with type 2 diabetes.
The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying that diabetes was on the rise globally and rising faster in low- and middle-income countries.
He said too many people who needed insulin encountered financial hardship in accessing it or went without it and lost their lives.
He added that including insulin analogues in the Essential Medicines List, coupled with efforts to ensure affordable access to all insulin products and expand the use of biosimilars, was a vital step towards ensuring everyone who needed the life-saving product could access it.
Similarly, the organisation approved four cancer drugs to the list.
They are: enzalutamide, as an alternative to abiraterone, for prostate cancer.
Another drug, everolimus, was listed for subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA), a type of brain tumour in children.
Ibrutinib, a targeted medicine for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and rasburicase have been approved for tumour lysis syndrome, a serious complication of some cancer treatments.
Cancers are among the leading causes of illness and death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, with seven out of 10 occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
Breakthroughs have been made in cancer treatment in the last years such as medicines that target specific molecular characteristics of the tumour, some of which offer much better outcomes than ‘traditional’ chemotherapy for many types of cancer, WHO said.