World Health Organization and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to dramatically increase global access to childhood cancer medicines

The World Health Organization and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have announced plans to establish a platform that will dramatically increase access to childhood cancer medicines around the world.

The Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines, the first of its kind, will provide an uninterrupted supply of quality-assured childhood cancer medicines to low- and middle-income countries. St. Jude is making a six-year, $200 million investment to launch the platform, which will provide medicines at no cost to countries participating in the pilot phase. This is the largest financial commitment for a global effort in childhood cancer medicines to date.

“Close to 9 in 10 children with cancer live in low- and middle-income countries,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D., WHO director-general. “Survival in these countries is less than 30%, compared with 80% in high-income countries. This new platform, which builds on the success of the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer launched with St. Jude in 2018, will help redress this unacceptable imbalance and give hope to many thousands of parents faced with the devastating reality of a child with cancer.”

Affordable, good quality and uninterrupted cancer medicines for children

Each year, an estimated 400,000 children worldwide develop cancer. Most children living in low- and middle-income countries are unable to consistently obtain or afford cancer medicines. As a result, nearly 100,000 children die each year.

The new platform aims to provide safe and effective cancer medicines to approximately 120,000 children between 2022 and 2027, with the expectation to scale up in future years. This platform will provide end-to-end support—consolidating global demand to shape the market; assisting countries with the selection of medicines; developing treatment standards; and building information systems to track the provision of effective care and drive innovation.

“St. Jude was founded on the mission to advance research and treatment of childhood cancer and other catastrophic pediatric diseases. Nearly 60 years later, we stand with the World Health Organization, partner organizations and our Global Alliance collaborators to expand that promise for children worldwide,” said James R. Downing, M.D., president and CEO of St. Jude. “With this platform, we are building the infrastructure to ensure that children everywhere have access to safe cancer medicines.”

This innovative approach will open a new chapter in access to cancer care by addressing medicine availability in low- and middle-income countries that is often complicated by higher prices, interruptions in supply and out-of-pocket expenditures that result in financial hardship.

According to a WHO Noncommunicable Disease Country Capacity survey published in 2020, only 29% of low-income countries report that cancer medicines are generally available to their populations, compared with 96% of high-income countries. By consolidating the needs of children with cancer globally, the new platform will curtail the purchasing of sub-standard and falsified medicines that results from unauthorized purchases and the limited capacity of national regulatory authorities.

“Unless we address the shortage and poor quality of cancer medicines in many parts of the world, there are very few options to cure these children,” said Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, M.D., executive vice president and chair of the St. Jude Department of Global Pediatric Medicine and director of St. Jude Global. “Health care providers must have access to a reliable source of cancer medicines that constitute the current standard of care. We at St. Jude, with our co-founding partners at WHO and many vital partners around the world, can help achieve that.” 

Pilot phase in 12 countries

During an initial two-year pilot phase, medicines will be purchased and distributed to 12 countries through a process involving governments, cancer centers and nongovernmental organizations already active in providing cancer care. Discussions are already ongoing with governments to determine the countries that will participate in this pilot phase. By the end of 2027, it is expected that 50 countries will receive childhood cancer medicines through the platform.   

Kathy Pritchard-Jones, M.D., Ph.D., president of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology, said, “We look forward to working with St. Jude and WHO on this journey to ensure all children, everywhere, have access to quality cancer medicines. The platform is bringing forth a dream of our more than 2,600 global members.”

João Bragança, Ph.D., president of Childhood Cancer International, added, “Cancer should not be a death sentence, no matter where a child lives. By developing this platform, St. Jude is helping families get access to lifesaving medicines for their children. Working together, we can change the outcome for cancer-afflicted children around the world.”

A continuing collaboration

World Health Organization and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital first collaborated in 2018, when St. Jude became the first WHO Collaborating Centre for Childhood Cancer and committed $15 million for the creation of the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer. This initiative supports more than 50 governments in building and sustaining local cancer programs and aims to increase survival to 60% by 2030. The Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines synergizes with the Global Initiative, with activities implemented through this new effort expected to contribute substantially to the achievement of the initiative’s goals.

The Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines is part of the six-year St. Jude Strategic Plan focused on accelerating progress on catastrophic childhood diseases on a global scale through the institution’s largest investment in research and patient care.

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