International – WHO prequalifies first biosimilar medicine to increase worldwide access to life-saving breast cancer treatment

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalified its first biosimilar medicine – trastuzumab – in a move that could make this expensive, life-saving treatment more affordable and available to women globally.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. 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.

Trastuzumab – a monoclonal antibody – was included in the WHO Essential Medicines List in 2015 as an essential treatment for about 20% of breast cancers. It has shown high efficacy in curing early stage breast cancer and in some cases more advanced forms of the disease.

“WHO prequalification of biosimilar trastuzumab is good news for women everywhere,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Women in many cultures suffer from gender disparity when it comes to accessing health services. 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.”

The global average cost of trastuzumab from originator companies is $20 000, a price that puts it out of reach of many women and healthcare systems in most countries. The biosimilar version of trastuzumab is generally 65% cheaper than the originator. With this WHO listing, and more products expected in the prequalification pipeline, prices should decrease even further…