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MPs discuss breaking Vertex's IP rights to bring Orkambi to UK

Published on 11/06/19 at 04:51pm

MPs yesterday discussed circumventing Vertex’s patent on cystic fibrosis medicine Orkambi (Lumacaftor/ivacaftor) as a means of breaking the deadlock and giving UK patients access to the £104,000 a year drug.

In a meeting at the House of Commons, MPs called on the Government to ramp up the pressure on the US firm, as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, Seema Kennedy, said she had “a moral obligation” to consider using ‘Crown Use’ licensing laws to break Vertex’s intellectual property (IP).

In response to a petition which received 118,034 signatures, MPs discussed using legal provisions written into UK patent law which would allow the government to ignore Vertex’s IP rights and open up the market to competition.

The provision has in the past been used against firms including US multinational Pfizer, when in 1965 the government allowed the NHS to import the antibiotic tetracycline from Italy into the UK.

Kennedy's comments came after Labour MP Clive Lewis called on the government to consider the use of Crown Use provisions: “I did raise the issue of compulsory licensing, which I know the government has in its armoury. It would of course be a measure of last resort but given that we’re dealing with people’s lives, the quality of their lives, and a company that is quite simply being intransigent and greedy – surely this is an option that should be considered, to send a message to the global pharma industry that if they are going to be greedy and put people’s lives at risk for what have been fair offers, then this could be used by our government.”

Seema Kennedy responded in suggesting: “Unless Vertex change their approach and behave responsibly, I have a moral obligation to look at these other options. Of course NHS England and NICE will carry on their negotiations because that is the desired option, but I have no other option but to look at these other options on the table.”

The Conservative Party MP continued in suggesting that “Vertex is an outlier” as she claimed that “Crown use licensing is not something that any government would consider lightly – it’s very rarely used in health.”

Another MP noted that using Crown Use licensing provision would not mean that a generic version of Orkambi would be immediately available to patients in the, UK as the drug would first have to be approved. “That isn’t an immediate solution… I understand it would take a couple of years at least,” she said.

In response to the meeting the Government said: “We want patients to benefit from clinically and cost effective treatments. We welcome the dialogue between Vertex and NHS England to agree a deal that would make Orkambi available to NHS patients.”

Louis Goss

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