UK deal makes Novartis cancer cell therapy available to kids

FILE PHOTO: Logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is seen at its branch in Schweizerhalle near Basel, Switzerland, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

LONDON (Reuters) - Health authorities in England have agreed with Swiss drugmaker Novartis to fast-track access to its expensive CAR-T cell therapy Kymriah and make it available to children and young people with aggressive leukemia when other drugs have failed.

NHS England said on Wednesday that cash to pay for Kymriah would come from the Cancer Drugs Fund, which was set up to fast-track access to promising new cancer treatments.

The commercially confidential deal with Novartis comes a week after the cost agency advising the National Health Service (NHS) on new drugs recommended against a rival CAR-T treatment for adults made by Gilead Sciences.

Kymriah and Gilead’s Yescarta are chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, or CAR-Ts, which reprogram the body’s own immune cells to attack malignant cells.

The treatments represents a brand new approach to fighting cancer, since the therapy involves extraction of infection-fighting cells from a patient. These cells are then genetically engineered to recognize cancer cells and infused back.

The process is complex and expensive but it offers hope for people with certain kinds of blood cancer who have exhausted all other treatment options.

The full UK list price for Kymriah is 282,000 pounds ($361,750) per patient. NHS England did not disclose the terms of its deal with Novartis but Chief Executive Simon Stevens said the rapid deal showed how “flexible” companies could succeed in getting new drugs adopted.

The Kymriah deal comes less than 10 days after the treatment was granted its European marketing authorization.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by David Evans