The Sinister Side Effect of Amazing New Cancer Drug: One Dose Costs Nearly $500K

On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a new cancer therapy developed by the pharmaceutical company Novartis that experts hope may revolutionize the way doctors treat cancer—but the half-million dollar price tag has sparked a national conversation the costs of life-saving treatments.

In a clinical trial of this CAR-T cell therapy—which will hit the market as “Kymriah”—83 percent of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia were cancer free after just three months and one dose.

“This is an amazing therapy, but there has to be a limit at which point companies can no longer charge desperate patients, or taxpayers, enormous sums.”
—Dr. Walid Gellad, University of Pittsburgh

“The therapy,” STAT reports, “is made by harvesting patients’ white blood cells and rewiring them to home in on tumors. Novartis’s product is the first CAR-T therapy to come before the FDA, leading a pack of novel treatments that promise to change the standard of care for certain aggressive blood cancers.”

“We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “New technologies such as gene and cell therapies hold out the potential to transform medicine.”

But at what cost?

The price for one treatment set of Kymriah is at $475,000, which does not include any doctors’ fees or additional bills for time spent at the hospital, meaning the end cost could be much higher. That is actually lower than anticipated—Wall Street analyst predicted as high as $750,000 per dose, and U.K. regulators said $700,000 “would be fair,” STAT reports—but priced at nearly half a million dollars, the treatment has provoked a fierce debate about notoriously high costs for necessary, life-saving healthcare.