Campaigners have asked the government to control the price of Orkambi, a drug used for treating cystic fibrosis. The drug which could be life saving for thousands of patients if the prices are reduced, is currently priced at £105,000 per year per patient by the manufacturers, the price which the NHS can’t afford.
A fierce battle between NHS and the pharmaceutical companies have been raging since last two years over the price of Orkambi. The drug can extend lives of patients suffering from the life shortening cystic fibrosis. The disease which is genetically inherited from parents shortens the lives of children as almost 50% of them die by the age of 32. Orkambi can help extend lives but the unusually high price of the medicine has hampered accessibility of the drug to patients owing to the stubborn refusal from pharmaceutical companies to lower its prices.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals a company based in Boston, MA which holds the rights over Orkambi has priced the drug at £105,000 per year per patient. NHS England offered £500 million to Vertex for a five year access to the drug; however, Vertex refused the offer saying that it is unfair and inadequate. It has also withdrawn its drug Symkevi from the approval process in England which is even more effective than the Orkambi drug.
Campaigners have said that Vertex has priced the drug exorbitantly in order to make billions of dollars in profits. The company earned profits of $2.5 billion in 2017 alone as revealed by National Institute of Health. The campaigners have asked the government to disallow Vertex’s patent on Orkambi for allowing cheaper and generic versions of the drug to enter the market. The 1977 patent act in Britain has a provision which is called ‘Crown Use’. The provision allows the overriding of the patent in national interest to allow other cheaper and generic versions to enter the market. The provision has rarely been used as it was last invoked in 1960s to obtain cheap versions of tetracycline antibiotic for NHS hospitals from Italy.
If the crown use provision is used by the state to obtain Orkambi, Vertex Pharmaceuticals would be compensated with much smaller amount than it would have received from its complete monopoly in the three cystic fibrosis drug. North Herefordshire MP Bill Wiggins from the Conservative party is preparing to ask the government for invoking the crown use provision in the House of Commons soon. He said that the crown use licensing is the only option to hold the pharmaceutical companies to account after Vertex refused largest ever offer made by the NHS in its entire history.