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Editorial: Drug industry's ingenuity needs to extend to controlling prices

Medical breakthroughs continue to save lives. But the cost of some of these new therapies can be staggering – hundreds of thousands of dollars – and may mean not all patients can benefit.

We must find ways to support medical and scientific advances while ensuring that the cost for lifesaving care is not out of reach for Americans.

Private companies engage in research and development of new drugs and therapies, sometimes building on advances stemming from government-funded research. It is an expensive undertaking, and drug companies understandably want to profit.

So word that a new therapy, Yescarta, made by Kite Pharma, had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for adults with aggressive forms of a blood cancer, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was met with both excitement and some trepidation.

Yescarta is a form of gene therapy, taking the patient’s cells and manipulating them so that they are transformed into what researchers are calling “a living drug.” This use of the immune system to fight diseases, including cancer, is called immunotherapy, a growing area of interest.

The New York Times reported that about 7,500 people a year in the United States may qualify for the treatment, which costs $373,000.

Another CAT T-cell therapy, Kymriah, made by Novartis, was approved in August for children and young adults with an aggressive type of acute leukemia. The cost: $475,000, although the company has stated it will not charge patients who do not respond in the first month after treatment. The Times reported that Novartis is expected to request approval from the FDA to approve Kymriah for lymphoma and other blood cancers as well and “may vary its price” depending on how well it works.

The relentless increase in the price of both new therapies and old drugs is one reason health care reform is so difficult to achieve. Congress and the pharmaceutical industry need to turn their attention to those costs.

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