Last month, the FDA approved a new cancer treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive disorder of the blood and bone marrow that is the most common in adolescent cancer in the U.S. The government is only approving it for the use of children, only 3,100 of whom are diagnosed with this specific cancer every year.
The reason everyone should take notice to this new drug, Kymriah, could be the first in line of revolutionary new treatments. This may be “an inflection point in our ability to treat and even cure many intractable illnesses,” stated FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, giving confidence to patients who have advanced or recurrent cancer resistant to traditional therapies, as well as a variety of serious illnesses.
This new treatment works as such: Specialists take a patient’s immune cells and reprogram them with a new gene that instructs them to detect and kill specific cancer cells. They then inject those reprogrammed cells back into patients’ bodies, where they go to work killing deadly malignancies. In a clinical trial, 83 percent of patients saw remission within 90 days. A similar process has seen some success in treating metastatic melanoma, a diagnosis that most of time results in a death sentence.
This method is one of several classified as “gene therapies.” Scientists are researching ways of deactivating or repairing defective DNA within people’s bodies, another avenue that could lead to breakthrough cures. Another technique doctors have used to re-boot patients’ immune systems against cancers is Checkpoint inhibitors, which assists the body’s existing immune cells detect cancers, have also displayed promise, including the treatment of ex-president Jimmy Carter’s melanoma.
Furthermore, Gene therapies and other immunotherapies still are ineffective for many patients. In others, remission may still happen, and their revitalized cancer may be even more difficult to treat. The process can also result in terrible side effects as the immune-system enhancement destroys the body. Reprogrammed immune agents will kill helpful cells as well as deadly ones. The FDA will permit hospitals and clinics that want to offer Kymriah to hold special certifications.
Next, is the cost of the treatment, which is currently $475,000 per treatment. The thing is, Kymriah only entails a single treatment per patient, and Novartis, its developer, has promised to take payment only when the therapy works within the first month of treatment. British health officials, are known for insistently keeping pharmaceutical costs, concluded that the drug’s value could decline as high as $649,000. Axios’s Bob Herman adds that Novartis kept costs lower because it may be the first in a line of new therapies to treat other types of cancer.