Millions of Americans are currently struggling with cancer. Most have also experienced the loss of a friend or family member to this most pernicious disease. Many scientists have devoted their lives to discovering life-saving treatments for individuals with cancer. Researchers at one hospital in China utilized CAR T-cell therapy to increase the longevity of ninety-four percent of patients with multiple myeloma. The success rate of the treatment may spark debate on whether a “cure for cancer” is in sight.
Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare cancer that has been on the rise in recent years. The disease causes cancer cells to accumulate in bone marrow. The Mayo Clinic examines how an accumulation of cancer cells in bone marrow can lead to abnormalities in plasma cells, the type of white blood cells that form antibodies to fight off illnesses. Only about fifty percent of patients survive five years after diagnosis of multiple myeloma, and the disease is estimated to kill nearly twelve thousand six hundred Americans this year, as found by the National Cancer Institute.
Researchers at the Second Affiliated Hospital in Xi’an, China have utilized a treatment method called CAR T-cell therapy for thirty-five patients with multiple myeloma, as reported by Science Daily. The treatment works by collecting patients’ T-cells, which are involved in immune responses, and injecting them with an artificially designed gene to find and destroy cancer throughout the body. The patients experienced improvement in their condition just ten days after beginning treatment. Within two months of receiving CAR T-cell therapy, thirty-three of the thirty-five patients tested went into remission; that is an impressive ninety-four percent success rate. Surprisingly, Fourteen patients went into stringent complete response (sCR) criteria, meaning they would experience a longer remission period. Also, five of the patients remained in remission for over a year.
Not only was the CAR T-cell therapy successful, but also it led to few side effects. Only two of the patients experienced severe side effects from which they quickly recovered.
The significant results from CAR T-cell therapy may fuel the debate from many that the substantial profits made off of cancer treatment would disallow a cure for cancer to leak to the public. The main fault with that argument is that there is not one cure for cancer; for example, a cure for multiple myeloma would be vastly different from that of other types of cancers. Moreover, it would be quite a stretch for the U.S. government to disguise these cures, as it would imply that the government is concealing multiple treatments. Many scientists are so passionately devoted to uncovering cures for horrible disease that undisclosed therapies are bound to leak out.
Without a doubt, however, cancer treatment does reel in billions per year for doctors. The National Cancer Institute estimates that expenditure on cancer treatment in the U.S. will reach $156 billion by 2020. Much of the profit is made from cancer medications. Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, a peer-reviewed journal for clinical oncologists, has found that the median monthly cost of new cancer drugs in the U.S. exceeds ten thousand dollars. Officials from Novartis, a cancer drug manufacturer, explain how they price their medications:
We price our medicines to reflect the value they bring to patients and society. We also continue to invest in new treatments so that we can find ways to make more cancers survivable.
While investing in new cancer treatments is expensive, the high costs of cancer medications have led to twenty-five percent of patients choosing not to refill their prescriptions, and twenty percent of patients taking less than the prescribed dosage. In contrast to what officials from Novartis state, expensive drugs are not making “more cancers survivable,” as patients are unable to afford the medications.
Doctors also benefit from the high costs of cancer treatment. As found by BMJ Journals, at least one in twenty U.S. adults are misdiagnosed with cancer each year. An infamous case of misdiagnosis is the forty-five-year prison conviction of Dr. Farid Fata who was intentionally diagnosing healthy patients with cancer for his financial benefit.
Researchers from the Second Affiliated Hospital are aiming to perform the CAR T-cell therapy on one hundred multiple myeloma patients next year to further investigate the treatment’s effectiveness. CAR T-cell therapy will hopefully become a life-saving and affordable treatment method for patients struggling with the hideous disease.