Patients call for end to CF drug price row at key meeting

Representatives of NHS England and cystic fibrosis drug company Vertex are to meet on Thursday to try and resolve a two-year impasse over access to life-changing medications.

Charities and patients called for a resolution to the ongoing pricing row, which began two years ago when NICE said Vertex’s combination therapy Orkambi (lumacaftor+ivacaftor) is too expensive for the NHS.

Orkambi is the first medicine to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis in people with two copies of the F508del mutation, aged six or over, and Vertex has other drugs in its pipeline that will mean a wider group of patients will get treated.

NHS England and Vertex have been locked in an increasingly bitter argument over pricing, with the manufacturer accusing the NHS of undervaluing cystic fibrosis patients.

Vertex is trying to get the NHS to fund all its approved CF drugs, and any future medications in its pipeline in a long-term deal.

In July Vertex said it received an offer worth about £500 million over five years, and more than £1 billion over 10 years for Orkambi.

This was rejected and Vertex has made veiled threats that it will consider spending its R&D budget elsewhere because of the row.

It has also refused to engage with NICE until the cost-effectiveness body changes its assessment methods.

David Ramsden, chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has written to Vertex’s chief executive Jeffrey Leiden, and NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens calling for the matter to be resolved.

Ramsden urged Leiden to do “everything in [his] power” to reach an agreement, while calling on Stevens to find a way to “value and reward” the innovative drugs from Vertex.

The UK has the second largest population of patients with CF in the world, with around 10,000 people affected.

Christina Walker with Luis

Christina Walker, from the patient group UKneedsorkambi, said the drug should be made available as soon as possible so that patients such as her son Luis can receive it.

Walker said: “It’s been a devastating summer for the campaign group while this impasse has persisted. We’ve watched our loved ones’ health decline with exacerbations, made many hospital visits and have mourned CF angels who’ve lost their final battle.

“Whether or not this situation continues unchecked is in the hands of the people from Vertex and the NHS around the table on Thursday.

“They must both compromise heavily – more than they want to – because lives are at stake and what’s the alternative? Too many people have died already. These transformational treatments can reduce the considerable suffering of this cruel condition, and patients must have them now. Time is up, and any further delay will be unforgivable.”

 

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