May 22, 2019 / 9:26 PM / 5 months ago

Novartis CEO plans gene therapy price 'far lower' than $4 million to $5 million range

FILE PHOTO: CEO Vas Narasimhan of Swiss drugmaker Novartis addresses the company's annual news conference in Basel, Switzerland January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

BOSTON (Reuters) - Novartis AG’s top executive said on Wednesday it expects to price its gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy “far lower” than the $4 million to $5 million figure the Swiss drugmaker has said it could be worth.

U.S. regulators are expected to make a decision this month on whether to approve Zolgensma, a one-time therapy seen as a potential long-term solution for the rare disease that is the leading genetic cause of death in infants. The company has previously said it could price the treatment in a range of $1.5 million to $5 million.

“We won’t be announcing the price until we get the approval. But our overall goal is to be at a fraction of what is the current standard of care, and the current standard of care for treating these patients is $4 million to $5 million over 10 years,” Novartis Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan told reporters on Wednesday in Boston.

The current treatment for SMA, which can lead to paralysis, breathing difficulty and early death, is Biogen Inc’s Spinraza. That drug has a list price of $750,000 for the initial year and $375,000 annually thereafter.

Narasimhan said his company’s ultra-rare disease therapy would be cost effective in a range of $4.6 million to $5.4 million. “We want to be far lower than that,” he said.

Novartis is expecting the drug initially to be approved for infants and is in discussions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about whether approval will include other forms of the disease beyond the most serious Type 1, he said.

The company is also in late stage discussions with commercial insurers over the price of the treatment.

Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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