US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells

Kymriah treats most common type of childhood cancer, but it has a hefty  $475,000 price tag

kymriah cancer drug

US health regulators have approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has for the first time approved a treatment that uses a patient’s own genetically modified cells to attack a type of leukemia, opening the door to what the agency calls “a new frontier” in medicine.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary. But it is priced at a shocking $475,000 per treatment.

Yesterday’s (Aug 30) announcment allows a process known as CAR T-cell therapy to be used in children or young adults fighting an often fatal recurrence of the most common childhood cancer – B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $649,000, The Guardian reported.

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