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Outrage as cystic fibrosis drug firm posts big profit

Outrage as cystic fibrosis drug firm posts big profit

A pharmaceutical giant charging the NHS an unaffordable price for a life-changing drug has further angered campaigners after posting a huge increase in its revenues. Ministers are already under pressure to step in over the price of Orkambi, a cystic fibrosis drug that could extend the lives of thousands of children. Vertex, its manufacturer, has…


A pharmaceutical giant charging theNHSan unaffordable price for a life-changing drug has further angered campaigners after posting a huge increase in its revenues.

Ministers are already under pressure to step in overthe price of Orkambi, a cystic fibrosis drug that could extend the lives of thousands of children. Vertex, its manufacturer, has set a price of £104,000 per patient per year for the drug. It has turned down NHS England’s offer of £500m over five years for the use of its medicines.

In financial results that will inflame the row, the company has posted a 40% increase in revenues for the last quarter of 2018, with records suggesting it has around £2.3bn in the bank. The results come as the company prepares to face a parliamentary inquiry over its demands. Talks with the NHS have been stalled since last summer.

Campaigners have called on the government to use an obscure law to allow the drug to be produced more cheaply. Under the1977 Patents Actthe state can effectively override a patent in the national interest, but the provision has rarely been used.

Cystic fibrosisis a genetic disorder, primarily affecting the lungs. While treatments have helped more children survive into adulthood, half will die before the age of 32.

Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary.

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Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Those living with cystic fibrosis who are currently denied this life-saving drug will be disgusted at these profits. This big pharma firm, by refusing to play fair with the NHS, is holding lives to ransom. The price they want for Orkambi is simply unjust.

“I’m meeting Vertex bosses on Monday and will demand a fairer deal. If they refuse to budge, ministers should step in and use what means they have to ensure an affordable version of Orkambi is available for those who need it.”

There are more than 10,000 people with cystic fibrosis in the UK and it is thought at least half could benefit from being prescribed Orkambi. A deal for its use in Scotland is expected soon.

Rebecca Hunt, a vice-president at the company, said: “Vertex confirms that we will be participating in the forthcoming public hearing of the health and social care committee on 7 March. Out of respect for the parliamentary process, we will not be providing further updates at this time.”

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