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Who will pay for CRISPR?

If gene therapy is any indication, treatments based on the CRISPR gene editing system will be very expensive. Will insurance companies will pay for them?

The ruckus over the CRISPR gene-editing system hides a dark reality: its high cost may make it unaffordable and questions remain whether most insurance companies will pay for it.

As CRISPR begins to move forward in clinical trials, there are some signals about how it may — or may not — be received commercially. Other types of gene therapies carry a price tag that is likely to induce sticker shock. If adopted, these therapies will add striking new cost burdens to our health care system.

“The cost isn’t coming down,” said Mark Trusheim, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s NEW Drug Development Paradigms, a think tank working on the problem of how we will pay for expensive new drugs. “Companies will say, ‘We are developing these medicines, just pay us’; insurers will say, ‘We can’t afford it.'”

A few years ago, Dutch drug company uniQure set up a plant in Lexington, Mass., to make a gene therapy called Glybera, at the time the most expensive drug in the world. It used viruses to slip copies

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