‘We don’t apologize for being highly profitable until our patents run out,” says the man seated in the barest office of any corporate leader I’ve visited. There’s almost nothing on the walls, and the occupant, John C. Martin, tells me it’s because he moved into the space only “at the beginning of the summer”—long enough ago, one would think, to find an etching or two. One cannot escape the feeling that Mr. Martin, a 66-year-old chemical engineer who is executive chairman of Gilead Sciences, is not greatly given to adornment. He’s a plainspoken Midwesterner who lights up at the chance to talk about the medicines his company makes. And yes, it also makes money.
Gilead is now poised to make even more money—and to give thousands of people a startling new lease on life. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the company’s Yescarta treatment, the first chimeric antigen receptor T-cell—or CAR-T—therapy for certain types of lymphoma. Mr. Martin describes it as “groundbreaking technology” that “represents personalized, genetically modified cell therapy.” Being able to harness the immune system, he adds, “is among the most significant breakthroughs in cancer treatment in decades.” He quotes Norbert Bishofberger, Gilead’s head of research and development, who “is fond of saying that ‘we all have cancer in us,’ and some of us lose immune control and it gets away from you.” Cancer “subverts the immune system and your body can’t fight it.” Now, science can enlist the body’s own cells to fight cancer. The list price for a course of treatment of Yescarta is $373,000, although no one has, as yet, had time to criticize the cost.
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