"The cancer world is forever changed." That's what a researcher is saying following the FDA's approval of America's first-ever treatment that genetically alters a person's cells to fight cancer. The customized treatment to be administered at certified medical centers involves drawing a patient's blood, genetically engineering their white blood cells, called T cells, turning them into a "living drug" that fights the disease, before re-dripping them back into the patient. It's expected to be a 22-day turnaround for Novartis' Kymriah treatment. Kymriah, which can cause a potentially life-threatening immune reaction, is so far approved only for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but companies are working to develop similar therapies for additional cancers. Just don't expect them to come cheap; Kymriah carries a $475,000 price tag, reports the New York Times.
Though analysts had expected Kymriah to cost $750,000, the founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs tells Forbes the cost is "excessive," while Stat News notes that that number doesn't include hospitalization and travel fees. Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez, however, says developing the treatment cost more than $1 billion. And in order for investors to continue to advance medical science, they need to get a proper financial return, he says. His compromise: There will be no charge if a patient doesn't respond within a month. For those who do respond—in a trial, 52 of 63 leukemia patients went into remission within three months of treatment, though the disease often kills quickly—the cost is less than that of a bone-marrow transplant, a doctor tells the Times. "This is a big paradigm shift, using this living drug," says a pediatric oncologist. "It will provide a lot of hope. This is the beginning."