Matt Hancock to meet drugs firm as dispute continues over cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. PA
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. PA
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock is to meet bosses from a drug firm in the hope of breaking the deadlock on the pricing of cystic fibrosis medicines.

Talks between under-fire Vertex Pharmaceuticals and the NHS on the pricing of Orkambi, which could dramatically improve the health of about half of people with the condition, have gone on for around three years with no breakthrough.

MPs heard passionate arguments from senior NHS officials and Vertex during a hearing of the Health and Social Care Committee.

John Stewart, acting director of specialised commissioning at NHS England, urged Vertex to accept its offer and said talks with the firm had been “torturous and protracted”.

The NHS has offered £500m over five years and potentially more than £1bn over a decade for access to Orkambi and other game-changing drugs in the pipeline, one of which could treat 90 per cent of patients.

But Vertex has rejected this offer, saying it is 90 per cent below the price paid in other countries and, if accepted, would lead to the firm going bust within three to five years.

Both NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have criticised the behaviour of the firm.

Dr Jeff Leiden, chief executive of Vertex, told MPs he will meet with Mr Hancock on Monday to discuss a new deal and a possible short-term funding option to accelerate access to Orkambi.

He said NHS England had only offered one price for the drug and had “walked away” from negotiations, whereas the firm had gone back with several offers.

He told MPs the firm would negotiate with NHS England and NICE - which approves drugs for use on the NHS - “any time, any place”.

He added: “I think we will reach a reimbursement agreement and the day we reach an agreement, or an agreement to get access to patients, we will get access to patients within four weeks, we have the supplies to do that.”