Although healthcare and economics are not a pleasant mix, they are an unavoidable one. Any medical treatment costs money – and experimental cancer therapy is often not covered by national healthcare systems or standard insurance.

As a result, one of the first questions our prospective patients ask regards the cost of pursuing Immunotherapy. While we can’t give any exact figures, we can provide some information to help determine the ideal choice for each case.

What goes Into the Cost of Immunotherapy of Cancer?

The term “immunotherapy” englobes a handful of treatments, and their costs are different. Here, we need to differentiate between two types of immunotherapy treatments. 

The first type consists of established immunotherapy methods. These are already available as commercial drugs, and patients can buy them at specialist oncology hospitals at their market price. 

The second type is advanced customized treatments. This includes some known protocols, such as CAR-T, and other experimental treatments, prepared in our labs. These treatments are significantly costlier, as the doses and protocols are adjusted depending on the patient. Often, so are the compounds we use: for example, anti-cancer vaccines are often made from tumor samples and are specific to each patient.

Therefore, the cost must cover all development expenses, from lab equipment and maintenance to the support staff. The final cost of Immunotherapy will depend on the treatment chosen, as each has a different price tag. Oncolytic viruses and anti-cancer vaccines are generally costly to develop. However, cell therapy usually requires a more extended development and is therefore costlier. 

Is Immunotherapy “Good Value”?

Based on an initial quote, it may be tempting for many patients to choose the lower price tag and then simply stick to it. Then, patients may move on to the next option if it becomes necessary.

In general, the smarter the treatment, the more expensive it is. But when it becomes necessary, patients may be taking a risky gamble by avoiding it. A smart, highly-effective method minimizes the chances of further treatment being necessary. As a result, the lifetime cost of a more complex option may be lower than that of a cheaper initial choice.

Human nature likes simple answers and well-defined endings. However, nature often fails to comply. Cancer is one example of this. Upon their initial diagnosis, patients often seek certainty: a single treatment, a clear timeline, and an eventual cure.

Instead, physicians deal with multi-drug resistant mutations, average survival rates, and eventual “remission.” Does this coveted word mean that you are cured?

Unfortunately, reality is slightly more nuanced than that.

Cancer remission: What does this term mean?

When doctors talk about remission, they refer to any cancer treated successfully by any method until it is undetectable. When a patient reaches remission, the signs and symptoms of their cancer are reduced or disappear altogether. In addition, remission entails your cancer cannot be seen via any imaging method – be it X-ray, CT, MRI, or PET scan. 

Remission is often possible through conventional treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. If a patient stays in remission for 5 years or more, doctors often describe that as being “as good as cured” – although this is not absolute.

Why is remission not the same as a cure?

Even if undetectable and asymptomatic, cancer in remission can technically always come back. All it takes is a single cancer stem cell left for the tumor to start regrowing.

How likely is it to have leftover cancer cells after remission? At just 1 millimetre wide, a tumor would be almost wholly invisible via MRI or PET scan. And yet, even that tiny size represents over a million cells. 

Moreover, conventional treatments are generally less effective against cancer stem cells (also known as cancer-initiating cells). As a result, even after reaching the point of minimally-residual disease, we can have no certainty that a person is fully cancer-free.

How can I ensure I stay in remission indefinitely?

The key to ensuring indefinite remission is to minimize any chance of cancer stem cells. Currently, the most effective method to achieve this is through cancer immunotherapy. This includes experimental and customized treatments, such as Coley’s toxin-based anti cancer vaccines, oncolytic viruses, or targeted cancer killer cells. When applied after a patient has reached remission, these methods can use the patient’s immune system to eliminate any leftover cells around the body.

For a cancer patient, one goal often trumps all the others: beating cancer and ensuring a long and healthy life. However, modern medicine offers different and confusing paths for this objective. 

Popular, well-established methods are easier to access but often fail to secure a complete and permanent recovery. Does this mean immunotherapy is better? With limited time, how can we make this choice?

How to Choose Between Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy

 

Choosing between chemotherapy and immunotherapy is meaningless, especially if done in a vacuum. 

For this, we need to consider two things. First, that cancer is not a single, unique disease. There are thousands of different mutations that can cause cancer, and each one spreads at different rates and responds to treatment differently. Second, a patient’s quality of life is as important as the length of their life. In reality, both conventional and immunotherapy treatments have their place and time. When treating cancer, we should start with the most readily available treatments: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. 

What is Chemotherapy Best For?

Alongside surgery, chemotherapy offers the best way to shrink tumors until they reach the “minimally residual disease” stage. When chemotherapy or radiotherapy succeeds, they can significantly shrink a tumor until they are nearly imperceptible. This will temporarily halt the chances of metastasis or widespread cancer cells. However, some cancer types do not respond to chemotherapy to begin with, or may become resistant to it over time. In addition, conventional treatments often fail to eliminate the “starter cells” of cancer, known as cancer stem cells. Often, repeated courses of chemotherapy will cause severe damage to healthy cells and weaken the patient, but leave resistant and starter cells intact.

What Immunotherapy Does Best

Immunotherapy is remarkably more effective against resistant cells and cancer stem cells. These are the cells that initiate cancers. As long as these cells remain, the possibility of the tumor growing back will remain. 

Immunotherapy treatments are not as effective in shrinking large tumors, but are the best at the minimally-residual stage. However, cancer immunotherapy treatments offer the best chance at long-term remission. In turn, some of the experimental treatments we pioneer at our clinic, such as oncolytic viruses, anti-cancer vaccines, and Allogeneic Targeted Activated Cancer Killer Cells (ATACK) have shown the best results so far at eliminating stem cells and treatment-resistant cells.

In Conclusion: No Absolute Answer

Some cancers respond exceptionally well to chemotherapy and can even be cured by it. But immunotherapy is a more effective method when dealing with resistant types of cancer. This is why treatment should begin with conventional chemotherapy first – and then consider immunotherapy to kill cancer to the last cell.