Essential Medicines Current Affairs - 2020

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WHO launches first biosimilar medicine to treat Breast Cancer

On December 18, 2019, the World Health Organization launched its first biosimilar medicine to treat breast cancer. The WHO intends to make the expensive, life-saving treatment affordable for women all over the world.


WHO launched a biosimilar medicine “Trastuzumab” in order to treat breast cancers. It is an antibody that shows high efficacy in curing early stages of breast cancers. It was included in the WHO Essential Medicines List in 2015.


In women, breast cancers are the most common form of cancers. Around 2.1 million women are affected by breast cancers (2018 UN data). Treatment of breast cancer using “Trastuzumab” is an essential treatment for about 20% of breast cancers. WHO also estimates that by 2040 the number of diagnosed breast cancers will reach 3.1 million.

Essential Medicines of WHO

The Essential Medicines according to the WHO, are the medicines that satisfy priority health care needs. It was launched in 1977 and updated once in two years. The list includes medicines for both adult and children. The current list was published in April 2019.

Biosimilar medicines

Biosimilar medicines are produced from biological sources like cells and not from synthesized chemicals. They are important to treat cancers and other non-communicable diseases. They are less expensive and give same effectiveness as that of generic medicines. The trastizumab is already in use in several markets. But this is the first time, WHO is approving the medicine.

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NPPA fixes retail price of 30 drug formulations

Drug price regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has fixed retail price for 30 drug formulations, including those used for treatment of diabetes, bacterial infections and high blood pressure. The prices were fixed/revised under Drugs (Prices Control) Order (DPCO), 2013.

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA)

NPPA is independent body under Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. It was set up in 1997. Its mandate is to fix/revise controlled bulk drugs prices and formulations, enforce prices and availability of medicines under DPCO, 2013. It also monitors prices of decontrolled drugs in order to keep them at reasonable levels. The regulator implements and enforces the provisions of DPCO. It is also entrusted with task of recovering amounts overcharged by manufacturers for controlled drugs from consumers.

Essential medicines

Essential medicines are those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the country’s population. They are listed with reference to the levels of healthcare namely primary, secondary and tertiary. They are generally based on the country’s disease burden, priority health concerns, affordability concerns etc.

In India, National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) formed in 2011 decides the essential medicines. The list is prepared by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. NPPA fixes ceiling price of essential medicines of Schedule I under DPCO 2013.

The calculation for essential drugs is based on simple average of all medicines in particular therapeutic segment with sales of more than 1%. In respect of medicines that are not under price control, manufacturers are allowed to increase the maximum retail price by 10% annually.

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