Cancer treatments using immune system come with a cost

Cancer treatments using immune system come with a cost

February 20, 2018
From the January/February issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Thom Wellington

To many fighting cancer, palliative care is considered the ending point – just dealing with pain management until life ends.

Recent developments outside of normal cancer treatment have emerged with both promise and staggering treatment pricing. While chemotherapy is still considered a mainstay in fighting cancer, it has its drawbacks in the form of adverse side-effects. As more cancer cells grow in the patient’s body, they take over useful cell space. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to interfere with the cancer cell’s ability to divide and reproduce. Unfortunately, chemotherapy can also interfere with healthy cells, further weakening the patient’s immune system. To many, the treatments mean dealing with the pain and hoping things improve.

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Recent approvals from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have created controlled chaos with pharmaceutical development companies being purchased at sky-high multiples and drug treatment costs reaching stratospheric heights. Kite Pharma, the developer of an FDA-approved treatment which genetically alters a patient’s cells to actually attack cancer, fits both scenarios. The innovative treatment for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has seen strong positive results in all trials, and the company was recently purchased by Gilead Sciences for $11.9 billion. In addition, the treatment known as CAR T-cell therapy and branded as Yescarta has an eye-opening treatment price of $373,000.

Innovative cancer treatment is quickly developing. Immuno-oncology holds the promise of treating certain forms of cancer, such as prostate cancer and melanoma, by leveraging the power of the human immune system. The human immune system is our built-in natural defense mechanism which eliminates foreign substances, cells and tissues that attack our bodies. The practical application of this practice is just beginning to emerge. Immuno-oncology molecules are designed to help identify cancer cells and destroy them.

Gene therapy
Gene replacement therapy sounds invasive and significantly complex to most patients. In actuality, gene replacement is a simple concept: insert a copy of a specific gene into targeted cells. The process introduces genetic material into targeted cells to either produce a protein or to overcompensate for abnormal genes. The process is intended to place a normal gene to replace an abnormal gene, or to provide restoration of a malfunctioning protein.

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