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China is racing into CAR-T development

A lab technician prepares to thawing blood bag
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