Chimeric antigen receptor T cells, a savior with a high price
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells represent a medical and scientific breakthrough that may represent a paradigm for the future of personalized medicine in the age of cancer immunotherapy. As with many new cancer agents, such novel and incredible results come with a high price. At the time of the writing of this article, there are two CAR T cells available, Kymriah, produced by Novrtis with a price tag of US$475,000 and Yescarta produced by Gilead Pharmaceuticals with a price tag of US$373,000, neither price including the required hospital admission in order to administer the agent in addition to potential treatment of side effects. There are several issues that are imperative to recognize when understanding the high cost, however the two more pertinent issues are low availability of the agent and no billing code. While only approved for less than a year, there are thoughts about how to bring the price down with more approved CAR T cells and more center with the ability to administer this therapy, however results may be years away before they are realized. In the short term, insurance companies are grappling over how to pay for CAR T therapy, with one of the biggest voids concerning the absence of a billing code for CAR T cells. Regardless, its high price tag highlights moral issues underlying value-based payments and whether the treatment is worth the cost while evaluating the juxtaposition of life years and monetary values. As CAR T cells expand the boundaries of immunotherapy with extraordinary results, the need for a lower price in combination for more availability of CAR T cells will grow until some of these fundamental issues are addressed.