At last, there’s some good news.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new treatment for certain kinds of blood cancer. Called Yescarta, it’s the second “living drug” therapy for cancer approved this year.
What’s unique about the treatment is that it uses something known as gene therapy, which re-engineers the body’s immune system cells, called T cells, to target cancer specifically. The treatment, dubbed CAR-T in scientific lingo, prompts the body’s own protective cells to recognize and fight cancer.
About 80,000 people a year are diagnosed with blood cancers, which include leukemia and lymphoma
Kite Pharma, of Santa Monica, California, developed Yescarta. In September, drug maker Gilead purchased Kite for close to $12 billion. That was the largest acquisition that Gilead has ever made, and the purchase signaled to financial analysts that the pharmaceutical company planned to move into new forms of drug treatment.
Healthcare companies working toward new cancer treatments
About 80,000 people a year are diagnosed with blood cancers, which include leukemia and lymphoma. In tests of Yescarta, nearly three quarters of those treated reportedly saw reduction in blood cancer, and remained healthy 8 months later, according to the Associated Press.
In August, the FDA approved a similar therapy for blood cancer, called Kymriah, from drugmaker Novartis, of Switzerland.
The downside: The new treatments are expensive, currently costing between $370,000 and $500,000, according to reports. Yescarta and Kymriah can also have serious side effects, according to both companies. Yescarta has been approved for use in patients where at least two other cancer treatments have proven ineffective.
Kymriah is also approved for use on a restricted basis, according to Novartis.