Special Issue

Access to high-cost drugs for advanced breast cancer in Latin America, particularly trastuzumab

22 Jan 2019
Carlos Henrique Barrios, Tomás Reinert, Gustavo Werutsky

Provision of high-level healthcare is a challenge for all low- to middle-income countries (LMICs) since healthcare systems are heterogeneous, face many challenges such as inadequate funding, inequitable distribution of resources and services and usually are not adequately equipped to deal with a huge problem such as breast cancer. The development of anti-HER2 therapies can be considered one of the most important examples of the translation of molecular biology knowledge into clinical benefits for cancer patients. While a variety of novel therapeutic strategies are emerging, current treatment regimens remain focussed on targeted therapy with monoclonal antibodies, mainly
trastuzumab, the first agent developed in this field. While these results have revolutionised the outcome of HER2 patients in clinical trials and in high-income countries where they are widely available, results have not impacted the natural history of this aggressive disease in most of the world. Unfortunately, the availability of these drugs is far from universal in many LMICs, and in Latin America, in particular, patients with HER2 breast cancer are treated exclusively with standard chemotherapy, a more toxic and less efficient therapy. While the complexity of the situation and the multiple factors that have an impact in this scenario are recognised, we need to map the future and develop feasible strategies to address possible solutions to the problem of drug access. A clear and unbiased diagnosis of the situation
is a good starting point. Defining healthcare priorities and a clear strategy for the allocation of resources is difficult but mandatory. In this article, we will discuss current and future challenges regarding access (and lack of access) to high-cost cancer drugs in Latin America, with a focus on anti-HER2 therapies.

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