Gene therapy is great, but can anyone afford it?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Science holds great promise for treatments and cures. Among the areas of research in treating or curing hearing loss or even total deafness is gene therapy. Scientists at Columbia University and Stanford University and elsewhere are already working on this.

The main concern I have about gene therapy is its cost. A new treatment for a rare form of blindness costs $850,000. A recently approved gene therapy for a rare form of leukemia costs $500,000.

No one can predict how much a gene therapy treatment for hearing loss or deafness will cost, but the ballpark is several hundred thousand dollars. For a condition affecting 50 million Americans, that’s more than our country can afford. Insurance premiums would have to increase ten or one hundred times if health insurance or pharmacy benefits paid for the drug, or there would be prohibitive cost sharing. Out of pocket costs would be more than anyone except a few multimillionaires or billionaires could afford.

And the sad part is that the overwhelming majority of hearing loss in adults–I estimate up to 90% of all cases of adult hearing loss–is noise-induced hearing loss, which is 100% preventable.

My advice: avoid loud noise. If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud. Protect your ears. Like your eyes and knees, God only gave you two of them, and they have to last a whole lifetime!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

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