Health Minister Simon Harris travels to Portugal today for a EU health ministers meeting on pharmaceutical drug costs amid growing pressure for him to cut a deal with a drug firm for a life-saving cystic fibrosis medication.

Yesterday, cystic fibrosis patients briefed dozens of TDs on how they would not be alive without the drug, while Fianna Fáil called for immediate action on the issue.

Due to an escalating stand-off between the Government and US-based pharmaceutical firm Vertex, seriously ill cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland are unable to receive a new drug called Orkambi.

Vertex has asked the State to pay approximately €150,000 per person annually for the drug, despite Government experts saying a €30,000 figure is fairer.

Orkambi has been proven to drastically improve survival rates.

The situation, which has been repeated for other medicines in previous years, poses serious implications for the HSE budget for all drugs, and has led to increased concern that cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland will be unable to access Orkambi.

In a bid to address the matter, Mr Harris last night confirmed he is travelling to Lisbon today to seek the assistance of other EU nations as part of attempts to force pharmaceutical firms to slash “exorbitant prices, which make it effectively impossible to access new treatments”.

The meeting comes just 24 hours after cystic fibrosis patients briefed dozens of TDs on the benefits of Orkambi and fears they may be unable to access it. The presentation at Leinster House lasted 90 minutes.

Speaking after the meeting, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher — whose party leader Micheál Martin had earlier met with senior Vertex officials — said the onus is on the Government to hold “intensive negotiations” with the company to ensure people in need receive the treatment, adding this should be “not tomorrow, or next week, but now”.

Former health minister and current Fine Gael deputy leader Dr James Reilly earlier told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sean O Rourke programme that the situation has been caused by “gross greed” and needs to be addressed immediately.

Pointing to Vertex’s accounts, he said its CEO made $28m last year, alongside “a raft of executives who got $3m to $4m”.

Warning the situation “cannot be justified”, Dr Reilly said the Government should consider introducing qualifications to any future research or innovation grants given to pharmaceutical firms, making it clear that any life-saving drugs cannot be the subject of excessive prices, which put people’s lives at risk.


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