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Cost of a Stem Cell Therapy? An Estimated $512,000

Posted: June 30, 2013 at 2:55 am

The likely costs of potential stem cell therapies
and cures receive almost no attention in the media as well as
publicly from scientists and the biotech firms.
Usually any public discussion is
obliquely framed in the context of “reimbursement,” as if
industry is owed something instead of making a business decision
about what will make a profit. Euphemisms and jargon cloak unpleasant realities such as astronomical patient costs. But what reimbursement really involves are, in fact, pricing decisions and profit margins along with
lobbying campaigns for inclusion of
therapies in normal coverage of health insurance and Medicare
And today a singular figure – $512,000
for one stem cell treatment – appeared in the Wall Street
. The story by Kosaku Narioka and Phred Dvorak dealt
with what would be the first-ever human study of a treatment that
uses reprogrammed adult stem cells.
They reported that the study received
preliminary approval on Wednesday from a key panel of the Japan
Health Ministry.
The treatment involves a form of age-related macular
degeneration, which has also been targeted by the California stem
cell agency with different approaches.
Buried deep in the Wall Street Journal
article, with little other discussion, was this sentence:

“One eventual obstacle, even if tests
go well, could be cost: (Masayuki) Yamato (of Tokyo Women's Medical
) says initial estimates for the treatment run around ¥50
million ($512,000) per person."

The subject of costs for potential stem
cell treatments has rattled around in the background for years
without much deep public discussion. One reason is that high costs of
treatments are controversial and can trigger emotional debate.
Another reason is that it is very early in the therapy development
process and estimates are not likely to be entirely reliable.
A few years ago, however, the California stem
cell agency commissioned a study involving costs of stem cell therapies. The UC Berkeley report said,

“The cost impact of the therapy is
likely to be high, because of a therapy’s high cost per patient,
and the potentially large number of individuals who might benefit
from the therapy. This expense would put additional stress on
the Medicare and Medicaid budgets, cause private
insurance health premiums to increase, and create an incentive for
private plans to avoid covering individuals eligible for a therapy.”

The findings did not seem to be exactly
welcomed. The agency sat on the 2009 study for seven months until it
was uncovered by the California Stem Cell Report in April 2010. Then
the agency was careful to say that the study did not reflect the view
of CIRM management or board leadership.
Their wariness of being out in front on the issue could be well-advised. The pharmaceutical industry received some unpleasant attention this spring when more than 100 influential cancer specialists from more than 15 countries publicly denounced the cost of cancer drugs that exceed more than $100,000 a year.
Nonetheless pricing is critical
to both patient accessibility and therapy development. If companies
cannot make a profit on a possible therapy, it is virtually certain
not to appear in the marketplace.
While the subject remains in the
background, it does not mean there is a lack of interest. The copy of
the Berkeley stem cell cost study that was posted online by the California
Stem Cell Report has been read 11,701 times since it was made
available in April 2010 on scribd.com.
A copy of the study can be found below.


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