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Price Tag for Amgen’s New Leukemia Drug: About $178,000

CD3 T-cell engager joins ranks of world’s most expensive cancer treatments

Amgen has announced that its new type of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) would cost approximately $178,000 when it becomes available on December 18, which would make it one of the world’s most expensive cancer drugs.

In a Reuters report, company spokeswoman Danielle Bertrand said the price for the infused medication –– Blincyto (blinatumomab) –– 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 health care system, for an ultra-orphan population with a dramatic impact on a serious illness,” Amgen said in an emailed statement.

The company also said the price reflects the complexity of developing and making innovative biotech drugs.

The FDA approved Blincyto on December 3 for the treatment of Philadelphia chromosome-negative relapsed or refractory B-cell–precursor ALL.

Blinatumomab is a bispecific CD19-directed CD3 T-cell engager that binds to CD19 expressed on the surface of cells of B-lineage origin and to CD3 expressed on the surface of T cells. It activates endogenous T cells by connecting CD3 in the T-cell receptor (TCR) complex with CD19 on benign and malignant B cells. Blinatumomab mediates the formation of a synapse between the T cell and the tumor cell, the up-regulation of cell adhesion molecules, the production of cytolytic proteins, the release of inflammatory cytokines, and the proliferation of T cells, which result in redirected lysis of CD19-positive cells.

In a pivotal clinical trial, 32% of ALL patients achieved complete remission for nearly 7 months after receiving blinatumomab via infusion for 4 weeks.

An estimated 6,020 Americans, almost half of them children, will be diagnosed with ALL in 2014, and 1,440 will die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. ALL is the most common form of leukemia in children.

Immuno-oncology drugs, which stimulate the immune system or prevent tumor cells from “hiding” themselves, have become a primary focus of drug-makers after the approval in 2011 of Yervoy (ipilimumab, Bristol-Myers Squibb) for the treatment of patients with melanoma. Yervoy costs approximately $120,000 for a complete course of four infusions.

Sources: Reuters; December 17, 2014; and Blincyto Prescribing Information; December 2014.

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