US lets Novartis pay travel, meal expenses for Kymriah patients

Novartis will be allowed to pay for travel, lodging and meal expenses for Medicare and Medicaid patients who have to travel over 100 miles to get its Kymriah gene therapy, STAT reported. 

Though such payments would typically  be considered kickbacks and be illegal under federal law, HHS granted Novartis permission after the drugmaker argued it would benefit low-income patients. 

Kymriah was the first gene therapy drug to be approved in the U.S. and is used to treat children and young adults with a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as well as adults with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma. 

To receive Kymriah, patients must stay near a treatment center for at least four weeks to be monitored. 

Medicare or Medicaid patients who live at least two hours driving distance or 100 miles from the nearest center and don't have insurance for nonemergency medical travel will be covered by Novartis, according to STAT

Novartis also launched its controversial lottery system for Zolgensma, its newest gene therapy drug that costs $2.1 million, the Gulf Times reported. 

Under the system, Novartis plans to give away as many as 100 doses of Zolgensma for free.

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