Amgen Inc on Wednesday said its new type of treatment for a deadly form of leukemia would cost about $178,000 when it becomes available on Thursday, which would make it one of the world's most expensive cancer drugs.
Company spokeswoman Danielle Bertrand said the price for the infused medicine, called Blincyto, would reflect two courses of treatment, at $89,000 per cycle.
"We believe the price reflects the significant clinical, economic and humanistic value of the product to patients and the healthcare system, for an ultra-orphan population with a dramatic impact on a serious illness," Amgen said in an emailed statement.
U.S. regulators on Dec. 3 approved Blincyto to treat a rare blood cancer called acute lyphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The initial approval is for patients whose cancer has returned after treatment or did not respond to previous treatment, such as a stem cell transplant or chemotherapy.
In a clinical trial used for the approval decision, 32 percent of patients achieved complete remission for nearly seven months after receiving the drug via infusion for four weeks.
An estimated 6,020 Americans in 2014, almost half of them children, will be diagnosed with ALL and 1,440 will die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
"The overall price of Blincyto is definitely on the high side for cancer drugs," said Michael Yee, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. But he said the price was not surprising given the drug's impressive effectiveness and that only about 1,000 Americans who had failed previous therapy would be eligible to take it.
Yee estimated Blincyto could reap annual sales of $100 million for ALL, assuming that half of all eligible patients take the medicine. "That would make it a pretty small drug," he said.
Amgen acquired Blincyto through its $1.2 billion purchase in 2012 of Micromet, a biotechnology company founded in Germany. At the time, Blincyto was known by its chemical name, blinatumomab.
The drug is a so-called bispecific antibody, a hot emerging technology that could prove more potent than conventional antibodies, which have become mainstay treatments for a wide array of cancers.
Other costly immuno-oncology drugs, which work by harnessing the immune system, include Bristol-Myers Squibb Co's Yervoy treatment for melanoma, which costs about $120,000 for a complete course of four infusions. Merck & Co's new Keytruda melanoma drug costs $150,000 for a year of treatment.
Amgen shares were up 1.7 percent in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, David Gregorio and Meredith Mazzilli)