The first gene therapy treatment in the United States was approved recently by the Food and Drug Administration, heralding a new era in medicine that is coming faster than most realize — and that perhaps few can afford.
The treatment, Kymriah, made by Novartis, is spectacularly effective against a rare form of leukemia, bringing remissions when all conventional options have failed. It will cost $475,000.
With gene therapy, scientists seek to treat or prevent disease by modifying cellular DNA. Many such treatments are in the wings: There are 34 in the final stages of testing necessary for F.D.A. approval, and another 470 in initial clinical trials, according to the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, an advocacy group.
The therapies are aimed at extremely rare diseases with few patients; most are meant to cure with a single injection or procedure. But the costs, like that of Kymriah, are expected to be astronomical, alarming medical researchers and economists.
One drug, to prevent blindness in those with a rare genetic disease, for example, is expected to cost between $700,000 and $900,000 per...