Novartis Announces SMA Cure With US$2 Million Price Tag

Novartis AG
Switzerland's national flag flies in front of the logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis (Photo: Reuters)

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG has announced a new wonder drug it has developed that could potentially save millions of children's lives. Unfortunately, there is a big catch to the company's latest cure; it will cost patients a whopping US$2 million per treatment.

The drug developed by one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies by market capitalization and sales is a possible cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA. The genetic disorder, which causes the death of motor neurons, is one of the leading causes of infant death worldwide.

According to Novartis, its new drug called Zolgensma, has been proven to curb the effects of SMA. The drug could potentially save millions of lives around the world after the FDA approves it. The FDA is currently reviewing the drug and is expected to announce its approval within the month. The US$2 million price tag revealed by Novartis is its initial estimate and the company believes that it could be much more expensive once it is out in the market.

The announcement of the new drug has caused quite a controversy in the medical field. Some critics have stated that no matter how effective the treatment may be, it still remains to be quite useless as no one can really afford to buy it. Insurance companies have also expressed their concerns with the purported cure as its long-term effects have yet to be studied.

Novartis began working on the drug more than five years ago. It was also around the same time that it conducted the first clinical trials for the drug. Zolgensma is a type of gene-therapy medication that directly targets the genes that cause SMA.

Gene-therapy drugs are still relatively new in the market and most have yet to be proven to be safe for users over the long term. The FDA has so far approved a number of gene-therapy drugs, but most are still quite expensive given the difficulty involved in producing them.

The FDA recently approved the gene-therapy drug Luxturna, a slightly less-expensive drug costing around US$850,000 used to treat people with a rare genetic eye condition.

Other FDA-approved gene-therapy drugs available on the market include Strimvelis, which cost US$663,000, and Mariah, which cost US$475,000.

Unlike the other aforementioned gene-therapy drugs, Zolgensma stands to help a larger group of people in the United States and around the world. The disease, which is characterized by extreme muscle wasting and early death, is estimated to affect one in 5,000 people worldwide.  

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