Kenny says CF drug maker is 'ripping off the taxpayer'

Kenny says CF drug maker is 'ripping off the taxpayer'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has accused the maker of a life-saving cystic fibrosis drug of "ripping off the taxpayer" amid growing concern over the "excessive" price tag it is demanding, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent.

The Fine Gael leader made the claim as he said the Government is willing to enter negotiations with the pharmaceutical firm involved to ensure patients are able to access the medication - if the company agrees to significantly lower its price.

Speaking during the latest Dáil leaders questions debate on Wednesday, Mr Kenny repeatedly came under fire from Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Féin counterpart Gerry Adams over the ongoing controversy surrounding the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi.

Despite being proven to save lives, the drug is not available publicly in Ireland as its marker Vertex wants the State to pay it €160,000 a year for every person they help instead of the €30,000 HSE-recommended figure.

Addressing the issue in the Dáil, Mr Kenny said Vertex is "ripping off the taxpayer" by demanding the price must be paid if Irish patients want to receive the drug.

Insisting the US-based pharmaceutical firm is failing to put the lives of people before its own profits, he said the Government fully supports the HSE's view that the €30,000 figure is appropriate.

"Vertex are ripping off the taxpayer here. It is not a political process that determines the value and the impact of the drug, that has been decided by those qualified in clinical practice," he said.

"Clearly this company are using cystic fibrosis patients to say we have a drug that enhances your quality of life, but the charge being forward by the company is grossly excessive.

"The clinical person in charge of this [for the HSE's pharmaco-economics group, Prof Michael Barry] has been very clear on this," he said.

The position was heavily criticised by Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, who said it is vital Mr Kenny ends the "Mexican stand-off" between the Government and Vertex for the benefit of patients whose lives are at risk.

Urging the Taoiseach to "ensure there are negotiations", he said while the "easiest thing to do is attack big bad pharma, it doesn't resolve this" and that "nobody believes" the €30,000 HSE figure is credible.

"This hasn't been handled well, it is not good enough. You can't get a deal if it's just hostility and bad blood on both sides," he said.

After similar concerns were raised by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who said the Government "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing", Mr Kenny said while he continues to believes Vertex is "ripping off" the State.

However, he added that if the company is willing to reduce its price, Government will negotiate in a bid to secure the life-saving drug for the 500 people in Ireland with cystic fibrosis.

"Prof Barry pointed out that in his view Orkambi is not cost-effective at almost €160,000 per patient per year. He estimated the cost at €30,000. There is a big difference.

"If they [Vertex] are willing to come down from €160,000 a year, let's see what they're talking about," he said.

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