NOVARTIS HAS MADE HISTORY AS THE FIRST PHARMA COMPANY TO GAIN APPROVAL OF A CAR-T PRODUCT BY THE FDA AND CAN BE CROWNED DEFINITIVE WINNERS OF WHAT HAS BEEN AN EAGERLY FOLLOWED RACE OVER RECENT YEARS.
The Swiss drug giant’s product, to be marketed as Kymriah, is a treatment for children and young adults with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia but priced at $475,000 (£367,000) per dose, is one of the world’s most expensive medicines. Will all patients who need this drug be able to access it?
I’d put a bet on it.
As a salesperson, I'm often in the crossfire of "cost vs. value" conversations and this is a great example of it. Innovative drugs deserve innovative pricing and by beating most Wall Street analyst’s predictions, Kymriah does appear to be a relative bargain. Especially when compared to the current standard of care, bone marrow transplants can cost as much as $800k. Moreover, the clinical results are so impressive with 83% of patients being cancer free after three months.
Stephen Grupp, who treated the first child with a CAR-T put it well when he said, "I don't want to be an apologist for high drug prices in the U.S., but if it's the last treatment they need, that's a really significant one-time investment in their wellness, especially in kids who have a whole lifetime ahead of them."
However, there are some risk factors. The reality of the marketplace for such an unprecedented treatment paradigm could mean several hurdles for patients, payers and practitioners alike. For example, Novartis has said it is working on a system whereby the government pays for the treatment only if patients respond within a month; there are only 32 sites across the US where patients can be treated; it takes 22 days to process and deliver the treatment; the price tag covers the drug only and does not include hospitalization or travel or adjunct therapy costs.
So, time will reveal the true commercial success of Kymriah but, either way, FDA approval is a huge success for the European advanced therapies community too. Not only are Novartis a huge European biopharma but Oxford Biomedica, a UK-based biotech and CMO has an exclusive partnership for the supply of lentiviral vector used in the manufacture of the treatment. Speaking to the Guardian, John Dawson, chief executive of the British firm, said: “This innovative immunocellular therapy will offer critically ill patients with an aggressive disease a new treatment option. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Novartis.”