Health secretary hints at ‘constructive’ talks over CF drugs

Health secretary Matt Hancock has offered hope to thousands of people in the UK who have been denied access to powerful cystic fibrosis drugs because of a row over pricing with manufacturer Vertex, saying that fresh discussions with the firm have been “constructive”.

Around three years ago NICE said Vertex’s Orkambi MS drug was too expensive for the NHS and since then talks over pricing have been virtually deadlocked.

Vertex has since pushed for a pricing deal covering all its CF drugs, including those that are yet to be approved, but has rejected a deal worth around half a billion pounds over five years, and around a billion pounds over 10 years.

Hancock gave few details in a brief statement to the House of Commons, but said that Vertex is now re-engaging with UK health authorities.

Representatives of the Department of Health, NICE and Vertex’s CEO Jeff Leiden were grilled by MPs from the influential commons Health Committee earlier this month and it looks like this has pushed the company to re-engage.

Hancock said: “We have been having constructive discussions. I am delighted that Vertex have finally agreed to participate in those discussions.

“They have also committed to providing the data needed for an objective assessment of the drugs in question and I look forward to those discussions proceeding effectively.”

Hancock said it was important to raise awareness about the positive impact Vertex’s drugs could have on patients’ lives, and the importance of them to the UK’s large cystic fibrosis community.

“I know the impact that cystic fibrosis can have on people and I know of the hope that there is.”

Vertex said in a statement that it had met with representatives of NHS England and NICE last week, but gave no further details. The company said that discussions are to continue.

A spokesperson said: “Given the importance of confidentiality during these ongoing negotiations, we are unable to comment any further at this time.”

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