Dec 11, 2019

China is racing into CAR-T development

A lab technician prepares to thawing blood bag before genetically modifying a patients immune cells. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

China's aggressive focus on prescription drugs includes developing its own version of CAR-T, one of the most ambitious therapies on the market, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Chinese scientists are attempting to develop CAR-T therapies — which genetically engineer a patient's own immune cells to destroy cancer cells — much faster and with a much cheaper price tag than those in the U.S.

But there are concerns that the country is moving too fast and considering loosening oversight too much.

  • While American and European companies take two to three weeks to engineer each patient's CAR-T therapy, Chinese startup Gracell Biotechnology makes theirs overnight.
  • Gracell plans to price its treatment — which is still experimental — at around $71,000. The two CAR-Ts approved in the U.S. have price tags of $475,000 and $373,000.

What they're saying: "We all want these therapies to move fast and some are very good, but we need to be aware that some could be moving too fast for their expertise, even if they have very good intentions," Bruce Levine, a professor specializing in cancer gene therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, told Bloomberg.

The big picture: The Chinese market for drugs is enormous, particularly for cancer drugs.

  • China is home to the largest cancer population in the world, per Bloomberg.

Go deeper: China offers drug companies market access in exchange for lower prices

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Cancer death rates drop by largest amount on record in U.S.

Photo: Harry Sieplinga/Getty Images

American Cancer Society researchers revealed in a new report published Wednesday that the U.S. cancer death rate dropped 2.2% between 2016 and 2017, the largest decline recorded in national cancer statistics dating back to 1930, AP reports.

The big picture via Axios' Bob Herman: Lung cancer drove most of the decline, as fewer people smoke cigarettes, and advanced lung cancer treatments become standard. Lung cancer accounts for nearly a quarter of all cancer deaths, according to the lead author of the report, Rebecca Siegel.

Go deeperArrowJan 8, 2020

A lottery for the most expensive drug in the world

Novartis is giving away about 100 doses a year of the most expensive drug in the world, Zolgensma — a gene therapy that cures children of a deadly disease, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Between the lines: The free drug will be offered via a lottery system, which some patient groups say is inappropriate and unfair, as it fails to account for need.

Go deeperArrowDec 20, 2019

Drug price hikes are back for 2020

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have raised the sticker prices on hundreds of drugs at the start of 2020, with most of the increases coming under 10%.

The big picture: It may be a new year, but the same drugs are once again subject to the same industry practices.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 6, 2020