The World Health Organization (WHO) has added two anti-cancer drugs to its list of essential drugs for 2019 despite oncologists calling for less-toxic treatments for the disease.
According to the WHO, the two recently developed immunotherapies (nivolumab and pembrolizumab) have achieved survival rates of up to 50% for advanced melanoma, a cancer that has hitherto been incurable.
"While several new cancer treatments have been commercialized in recent years, only a few offer enough therapeutic benefits to be considered essential," said the UN agency.
"The five cancer treatments added by the WHO to the new list of drugs are considered the best in terms of survival rates for treating melanoma, lung, blood and prostate cancers."
The Essential Medicines List and WHO's list of essential diagnostic products are key guidance documents that help countries prioritize essential health products that should be widely available and affordable in all health systems.
Published on Wednesday, the two lists focus on cancer and other global health issues, focusing on effective solutions, smart prioritization and optimal access for patients.
"Around the world, more than 150 countries use the WHO Essential Medicines List to guide decisions on the most cost-effective drugs, based on evidence and health impact," said the Director. General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Dr. Ghebreyesus said that the inclusion on this list of some of the latest and most advanced cancer drugs is a strong statement that everyone deserves access to these life-saving drugs, not just those who can afford it
Dr. Billy Njuguna, an integrative oncologist, and Dr. Fredrick Chite, a medical oncologist, argued that the world should consider adopting advanced genomic solutions and genetic testing for cancer patients.
Dr. Njuguna, before the Senate Committee on Health to advise on the proposed amendments to the cancer prevention bill, said that because of the toxicity and side effects of chemotherapy, including extreme nausea and vomiting, hair loss and weight, the world should focus on less toxic ways to manage and treat cancer.
He said the proposed diagnosis, which costs less than $ 500 (50,000 shillings), will help identify new targets for disease treatment and prevention and lay the scientific foundation for precision medicine for many diseases, including including cancer.
"Through the type of test you will be able to identify the type of cancer that a patient has, he will also indicate the right medication and what not to give to the patient through of a precision medicine, "he said.
Dr. Chite, director of the International Institute of Cancer, called on researchers to offer less toxic drugs and improve patient survival rates.