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Vertex doubles Q4 profits, angering cystic fibrosis drug advocates in UK

Published on 11/02/19 at 12:50pm

Despite ongoing controversy surrounding the currently stalled negotiations between Vertex and the NHS to make its cystic fibrosis (CF) drug Orkambi (ivacaftor/lumacaftor) available for patients at a price the health service can afford, the US firm has angered critics in the UK with the announcement of a surge in profits in the last quarter of 2018 – profits it says was driven primarily by “the strong growth in total CF product revenues”.

For the last quarter of 2018, Vertex reported an increase in revenue of 40%, while its profits for the same period more than doubled form $158 million to $337 million. Its CF drug Orkambi proved a key contributor to these swelling figures; with a price of £104,000 per patient per year in the UK, NICE has been trying to haggle with its manufacturer to bring the price down to a level that can be considered a cost-effective use of NHS resources, but negotiations have been stalled since last year following a rejection from NICE back in 2016, with Vertex reportedly turning down an offer from NHS England to offer the drug at £500 million over five years.

The manufacturer has been under pressure to drop its price from a number of patient groups, who are now pushing for the UK Government to implement a provision under the 1977 Patents Act, which would circumvent Vertex’s patent and enable another drug firm to manufacture and sell Orkambi at a lower price, paying royalties to the patent holder.

“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,” remarked Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth. “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.”

A genetic disorder which affects the lungs and digestive system, CF affects more than 10,000 patients in the UK alone, and it is thought that around half of this number would be eligible to receive Orkambi if it were recommended for use.

Matt Fellows

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