Forget the most hated man on the planet, ‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli – pharmaceutical company Novartis has just announced a first phase drug as a cure for blood cancer. The catch? It comes with a price tag of $475,000. Yes, you heard it right, putting your house on the market will make you cancer free.
Known as CAR-T therapy or its street title, Kymriah, the drug has shown incredibly exciting results with an 83% survival rate amongst leukemia patients and those with certain aggressive blood cancers. They are also intending to use the same CAR-T therapy in the future to target other cancers, including lymphoma.
The drug has provoked unbridled excitement across the healthcare industry but has equally received backlash for its excessive cost. The results are not to be sniffed at: three months after being given the treatment, patients have experienced complete remission. The drug company Novartis has apparently put $1 billion dollars into the research bringing CAR-T to life but the company thus far has refused to give a breakdown of the costs that led them to this. David Epstein, a former head of Novartis Pharmaceuticals says, “It’s not really straightforward to figure out what the price should be.” Shockingly, some analysists in the industry expected the drug to be priced even higher, some saying between $500,000 to $800,000.
The excessive price tag only covers the initial treatment and does not include the costs of travel, hospitalization, or any drugs needed to help with side effects. In light of this, serious questions have been asked about the efficacy of such a price, with some insiders calling this price setup an outrage and practically unrealistic for patients, especially in a system where health insurance remains a very complicated entry point for many. David Mitchell, who runs Patients For Affordable Drugs, said in a statement that “Novartis should not get credit for bringing a $475,000 drug to market and claiming they could have charged people a lot more.”
Novartis has responded to the backlash saying that they will be giving patients a 30-day money back guarantee; if no signs of improvement are experienced in the first 30 days then the patient will not be charged. This is a space that has attracted a fair amount of scrutiny in the last few years, with the pharmaceuticals industry being accused of overpricing due to their monopolization of the system, but as the precision medicine space heats up, we’ll have to see if such a price will be adjusted as similar targeted therapies come onto the market.