New genetic therapies in cancer treatment could impact benefits plans

benefitscanada | April 12, 2019

In September 2018, Health Canada approved, for the first time, the use of a chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy. Called Kymriah, it treats pediatric and young adult leukemia and adult lymphoma. The federal regulator is also reviewing a second gene therapy, called Yescarta, for an aggressive kind of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both therapies are expensive, with Kymriah retailing in the U.S. for as much as US$475,000 and Yescarta for US$373,000 per treatment. While the price in Canada is still unclear, Cancer Care Ontario — which the provincial government is merging into super-agency Ontario Health — is negotiating the price with Novartis, the pharmaceutical company that produces Kymriah, on behalf of all provinces. Currently, 600 cellular therapies are in the pipeline for a variety of cancers, says Jean-Sébastien Delisle, a hematologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Montreal. Besides cellular immunotherapy, which includes CAR-T therapy, immunotherapy can include the provision of antibodies that boost the immune system, helping it fight several types of cancer including skin, kidney and lung.

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