The first cancer treatment that involves reprogramming a patient’s own blood cells to fight cancer has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, leading the way for federal approval of other, similar efforts.
Kymriah is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Novartis AG to treat children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It’s shown very encouraging results in clinical trials, but the price tag will be hefty: Analysts say it will cost “a fortune,” or maybe $700,000 for one course of treatment.
Kymriah is one type of so-called CAR-T cancer therapies. First, doctors take the patient’s white blood cells, or T cells, out of the body and add a special receptor called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). The receptor gives the T cells the ability to attack cancer cells. Then, these engineered cells are put back into the body. It’s a highly personalized form of medicine, since each dose must be tailored to the patient.