Novartis cancer treatment for CHF 370,000?! Public Eye opposes Kymriah patent

The price tag of Novartis’ personalised cancer gene therapy Kymriah has set a new record in the Swiss health system. Public Eye and Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) opposed a patent application on Kymriah filed at the European Patent Office in Munich today because the underlying technology is not novel. The ensuing market monopoly paves the way for irresponsible price setting, which is increasingly leading to a ‘two tier’ healthcare system in Switzerland.

A patent guarantees legal protection for a marketable product, serves to guarantee a monopoly and enables the patent holder to arbitrarily set the price of the patented product – something which is particularly controversial in the healthcare sector. In the case of Novartis’ new gene therapy Kymriah against certain refractory or relapsing cancers, the price is CHF 370,000 for one intravenous treatment. The treatment, through which white blood cells of the patient are genetically modified to recognise and attack cancer cells, was authorised by Swissmedic in October 2018. Experts estimate that yearly some 100 people in Switzerland could benefit from Kymriah. However, this kind of procedure is due to become important in treating other kinds of cancer in the near future, resulting in a rapidly rising number of cases requiring such expensive therapies. This means that the decision on the patentability of such procedures is crucial for the future, and Kymriah sets a precedent.  

Kymriah is not a medicine but a medical service that has furthermore not been invented by Novartis but was essentially developed through university research and public funding.This led Public Eye to formally oppose one of the Kymriah patents granted by the European Patent Office. The decisions made by this authority based in Munich are also legally binding in Switzerland. Given that the marketing of a treatment is unrelated to its patent status, a revocation would have no negative influence on the availability of Kymriah. Rejecting the patent would however send a strong health policy signal regarding the abuse of intellectual property rights and drug prices that are spiralling out of control. In addition, public hospitals would face far lower hurdles in continuing to use the technologies that underpin Kymriah. 

Last week, the chair of Swiss Cancer Research, Thomas Cerny, criticised on the Swiss broadcaster SRF the “entirely opaque ‘fantasy’ prices of such processes, which are in no way justified”. Last year, Public Eye criticised such abuses in its Campaign for Affordable Medicines and called on the Federal Council to issue compulsory licences to combat overly high prices of drugs. For a person’s chances of recovery should not be conditioned by how much money they have – neither in Switzerland, nor elsewhere. 

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Oliver Classen, Media Officer, 0041 (0)44 277 79 06, 
Patrick Durisch, Head of Health Policy, 0041 (0)21 620 03 06,