Conference Coverage

Pricey gene therapy looks cost-effective for SCD


AT ASH 2022

A gene therapy made headlines recently for becoming the most expensive pharmaceutical ever launched – the price tag was $3.5 million for a one-off treatment with etranacogene dezaparvovec (Hemgenix) for hemophilia B.

Another gene therapy, a treatment for sickle cell anemia now in late clinical development, is expected to come on the market soon. It, too, is expected to bear an exorbitant price tag.

Such potentially curative therapies put financial pressure on publicly and privately funded health insurance.

However, investigators said that the new treatment for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) in the United States has the potential to be cost-effective. Those who analyzed the costs used a novel method that takes historical health inequities into account.

“When faced with costs of innovative, one-time-administered therapies, budgetary constraints, as we all know too well, can and have driven therapy availability or lack thereof for patients,” said George Goshua, MD, from the Yale University, New Haven, Conn., speaking here at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

“We believe that quantitative consideration of health inequities, in addition to the important quality considerations, may be an additional helpful metric in this decision-making context,” he said.

He noted that SCD predominantly affects Black Americans, “who have historically been a very marginalized population when it comes to health care.

“Our study shows that, when we compare the costs of gene therapy and existing standard-of-care treatment for SCD using a technique that accounts for historical health disparities, gene therapy could be an equitable therapeutic strategy for all patients with SCD, whether their disease is mild, moderate, or severe,” he said.

Commenting on the study for this news organization, Bosula Oluwole, MD, from the University of Washington, Seattle, who studies sickle cell disease but was not involved in this study, said the cost-analysis approach taken by Dr. Goshua and colleagues is interesting, but she added: “I think we still have a way to go in trying to fully understand the issue.

“When you look over time at the cost for a patient to get gene therapy vs. the standard of care, it might actually be beneficial to have the gene therapy,” Dr. Oluwole said.

She noted, however, that some patients start gene therapy for SCD at older ages and that it’s important to analyze whether the treatment can still be cost-effective or the best therapeutic option for such patients.

Adding a D to CEA

Dr. Goshua and colleagues at Yale University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston conducted what they believe is the first study in hematology to use distributional cost-effectiveness analysis (DCEA), developed at the University of York, England.

A University of York website explains that DCEA “is a general umbrella term for economic evaluation studies that provide information about equity in the distribution of costs and effects as well as efficiency in terms of aggregate costs and effects. DCEA can provide distributional breakdowns of who gains most and who bears the largest burdens (opportunity costs) by equity-relevant social variables (e.g., socioeconomic status, ethnicity, location) and disease categories (e.g., severity of illness, rarity, disability).”

The technique can also employ equity weight to evaluate trade-offs between equity and efficiency, the website says.

As Dr. Goshua put it, equity weighting is “a way of quantifying how much we prioritize health care equity.”


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