That’s a good question, one that is very important for this emerging industry. Unfortunately, it’s also difficult to answer, as there is no single answer. The costs depend on a range of factors including the application (e.g., disease, allogeneic or autologous, dose), target population demographics, country of manufacture and treatment and commercial interests.
Probably the best way to answer the question right now is to consider the costs of current therapies. Cell therapy is not really new; we have been doing bone marrow transplants (a form of stem cell therapy) since the 1950’s. More recently, umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants have been used, particularly in a pediatric setting. A recent scientific publication1 reports the average price of a single umbilical cord blood product to be US$34,200 in the America’s, US$24,300 in Europe, and US$20,600 in the Asia-Pacific region. This is the cost of the cell therapy product itself and does not include associated treatment costs such as hospitalization and co-treatments.
In contrast, a new cell therapy product for the treatment of prostate cancer costs approximately US$93,000 for a 3-dose treatment and extends survival by around 4 months. This high treatment cost isn’t simply what it costs to manufacture the product, but also reflects the large sums of money that have been invested in its research and development. These costs need to be recovered over time, and as the manufacturer is a commercial entity, it must also generate revenue and support future research and development. This is becoming increasingly true for government-funded research as well.
This prostate cancer cellular therapy is also a first-in-class product. Consequently the technology used in its production is immature and unlikely to be optimal. As this technology develops, it is highly likely that production costs will drop dramatically. Similarly, new products that come to market subsequent to this will benefit from the knowledge gained during development of the prostate cancer cellular therapy and ongoing advances in the basic technologies underlying cell manufacture. It is not unreasonable to expect that these new products will thus be lower cost on introduction, and that this cost will continue to decrease over time. Ultimately of course we hope that technology will reach point at which production of many cellular therapies will be minimal ($1,000’s per patient or less), and a great deal of effort is currently focused on getting there.
1. Bart, T. Cost effectiveness of cord blood versus bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells.Clinicoecon Outcomes Res 2, 141-147 (2010).
Nick Timmins, PhD.