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Cigna rolls out new plan to fully cover multi-million dollar gene therapies

Key Points
  • Gene therapies, which in general aim to treat diseases by manipulating genes at a cellular level, are among the most expensive treatments in the world.
  • The first two gene therapies to be included in Cigna's program are blindness therapy Luxturna and the most expensive drug in the world, Novartis' $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy treatment Zolgensma, the insurer said.
  • Additional therapies may be added to the program, and it will be able to leverage the expertise of its pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, which it bought for $54 billion last year, Cigna said.
David Cordani, president and CEO of CIGNA Corp., appears on CNBC at the New York Stock Exchange, March 8, 2018.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Health insurer Cigna said on Thursday it had introduced a plan to fully cover costs for expensive gene therapies, eliminating any out-of-pocket payments for customers.

Gene therapies, which in general aim to treat diseases by manipulating genes at a cellular level, are among the most expensive treatments in the world.

While there are only two approved gene therapies in the United States, drugmakers have been pouring in millions of dollars into the development of these treatments that could offer a potential one-time cure to rare and life-threatening disorders.

The first two gene therapies to be included in Cigna's program are blindness therapy Luxturna and the most expensive drug in the world Novartis' $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy treatment, Zolgensma, the insurer said.

Spark Therapeutics and Novartis's Luxturna, the first-approved gene therapy in the United States, has been criticized for its price tag of $850,000, or $425,000 per eye.

Additional therapies may be added to the program, and it will be able to leverage the expertise of its pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, which it bought for $54 billion last year, Cigna said.

The initiative comes about a year after Reuters reported Express Scripts was in talks with biotechnology companies to have its specialty pharmaceutical business exclusively distribute their new gene therapies when they become available.

Cigna's new program protects employers and unions against the high price shocks associated with new breakthrough therapies, the company said.

The addressable market for ongoing gene therapy development programs could be as big as 2.4 billion patients worldwide, and is only expected to grow in size, Guggenheim analyst Whitney Ijem said in a note on Wednesday.