The American model of free enterprise is the envy of the world. The United States is experiencing an economic boon across all demographics–historic lows in poverty and unemployment, combined with rising wages, business investments, and consumer spending has proven that innovation, invention, and modernity are the keys to progress. America is built on progress, and this is true across all sectors, especially in medicine and science.
Staying atop of the world in medical innovation must be centered on a ‘right therapy at the right time for the right patient at the right price’ ethos. Personalized medicine is the future of medical progress, and as the American biopharmaceutical sector works to find a cure for cancer, exciting breakthroughs are happening every day. For instance, an immunotherapy treatment called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T) is accessible now, and the Trump administration has the opportunity to make it widely available to Medicare beneficiaries.
CAR-T therapy works with the patient’s own immune cells to help them take on cancer. Blood is drawn from the patient, treated, re-engineered to fight cancer cells, then reintroduced back into the bloodstream through infusion. As Karen Kerrigan, a 10-year cancer survivor, wrote for the Morning Consult, “CAR-T cancer therapies are widely considered a next-wave cancer treatment that will bring hope for a cure …. More and more doctors around the country are performing CAR-T, which has produced largely positive outcomes for patients.”
Dr. Richard Maziarz, with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, explains: it’s one type of white blood cell, the B-cell, that gets sick. “And the way I often describe this to patients is: The B-cells are like artillery, well behind the enemy lines, and you’re firing off shells at a distance, to kill at a distance,” Maziarz said. If those B-cells havecancer, they won’t fight cancer. T-cells take over then. “And the T-cells are like infantry, they have to have hand to hand combat to deliver their lethal hit.”
With CAR-T innovation, we’re literally talking “Star Wars-type science,” saidStephanie Carlson, the executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Oregon. “What we are doing is we unlock the body’s own immune system and use it to fight cancer cells.” The therapy also lacks some of the worst side effects of traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy (which poisons the cancer), radiation (which burns it), or surgery (which physically cuts it out). “With CAR-T, instead of using those harsh chemicals, where we’re literally killing everything. The immune system is able to identify the bad cells, the cancerous cells and it’s able to attack those cells only.”
CAR-T is astonishing medical progress. It’s so astonishing that over 70 Members of Congress—Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives—sent a letter to Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, commending the administration for “ensuring Medicare patients nationwide have access” to this life-saving treatment. The Congressional letter goes on to ask the administration to “ensure that hospitals are appropriately reimbursed so they may continue to provide” CAR-T therapy to America’s seniors.
The therapy is astonishing. However, without appropriate reimbursement policy, a Medicare patient could be denied access to a treatment that would save his or her life. Without proper reimbursement by Medicare, providers simply will not be able to offer it as an option, especially in rural areas as patients must stay near a treatment center for four weeks to be monitored.
If innovative therapies are allowed to stagnate or wither, America loses its edge to countries like China which are especially assertive in therapies such as CAR-T. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has stressed he is “extremely worried” about this threat to American innovation.
The President Trump’s highest priority is the health and safety of the American people, and he as a strong record on supporting medical progress and patients’ access to cancer care. What’s needed now is a to make certain that Medicare serves the most vulnerable to keep us at the forefront of medical innovation.