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Dollar bill with DNA in the middle

Dozens of revolutionary gene therapies that mend faulty strands of DNA are on their way, bringing the power to eliminate lethal childhood diseases, rare blood disorders and other severe illnesses.

Beneath the excitement about these potential cures lies an important catch: No one knows how much to charge for them.

The new therapies aim to fix the root causes of disease with a single dose, in which the correct genetic material is introduced into the patient’s cells. If the treatments can replace a lifetime of conventional costly drugs, they may slash overall spending, even at multimillion-dollar prices. Yet the prospect of high costs is already stirring pushback.

Opening Day Of World Economic Forum 2019

Vas Narasimhan

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

“Most health-care payers in the world just haven’t had experience with this, and they’re going to have to come up with new models, especially when there are so many of these therapies coming,” said Vas Narasimhan, chief executive officer of Novartis AG. “We need the system to be able to adapt.”

The Swiss pharma giant says one answer could be installment payments, reducing the upfront cost. That’s what...