WHO prioritizes diabetes, cancer treatments in updated Essential Medicines lists

01 October 2021

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WHO has updated its model lists of essential medicines and essential medicines for children, adding 20 medicines for adults and 17 for children, in addition to new uses for 28 previously mentioned medicines.

Among the new additions are long-acting insulin analogues, their biosimilars and oral drugs for diabetes, antimicrobials for bacterial and fungal infections, and treatments for cancer and smoking cessation.

The WHO recently updated its list of essential medicines.
Source: Adobe Stock

The lists have been updated by an Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines. Committee members reviewed 88 applications and then selected the most beneficial drugs that should be available and affordable to every patient. The updated lists mark the 21st edition of the list of drugs recommended for adults and the 7th edition for children.

The new essential drugs for diabetes include insulin degludec (Tresiba; Novo Nordisk), detemir (Levemir; Novo Nordisk), glargine (Toujeo; Sanofi) and their biosimilars, as well as human insulin and the SGLT2 inhibitors empagliflozin (Jardiance; Boehringer Ingelheim / Eli Lilly & Co.), canagliflozin (Invokana; Janssen) and dapagliflozin (Farxiga; AstraZeneca).

“Diabetes is on the rise worldwide and is accelerating in low- and middle-income countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, according to a WHO press release. “Too many people who need insulin are experiencing financial difficulties accessing or going without insulin and lose their lives. The inclusion of insulin analogues in the list of essential medicines, coupled with efforts to ensure affordable access to all insulin products and expand the use of biosimilars, is an essential step to ensure that everyone who needs this life-saving product has access to it.”

Essential drugs for various cancers include enzalutamide (Xtandi; Astellas, Pfizer), everolimus (Afinitor, Novartis), ibrutinib (Imbruvica; Janssen, Pharmacyclics), and rasburicase (Elitek; Sanofi). Other cancer treatments were not recommended, according to the release, due to high prices, uncertain benefits, or management issues in a resource-poor environment.

For infectious diseases, the WHO has recommended cefiderocol, echinocandin antifungals and monoclonal antibodies for the prevention of rabies. These are the first monoclonal antibodies to be added to the Model Lists for an infectious disease, the WHO said.

Also, two non-nicotine-based drugs – bupropion and varenicline – were added as nicotine replacement therapies for smoking cessation.

A total of 479 drugs for adults and 350 drugs for children are now considered essential to meet public health needs, according to the release. The lists are updated every 2 years.

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