Simon Harris ‘won’t be bullied’ by drug firm over cystic fibrosis Orkambi drug

The Orkambi drug

Health Minister Simon Harris says he is not going to be “bullied or intimidated” or have taxpayers extorted by a drug company that holds the fate of people with cystic fibrosis in their hands.

“It is my job and the job of the Health Service Executive to meet the health needs of our population. The job of a drug company is to make a profit for its shareholders,” he said.

Negotiations between the HSE and drug manufacturer Vertex Pharmaceuticals on the price of the CF drug, Orkambi, restarted yesterday.

Mr Harris said the parties should be given space to try to deliver an outcome that provides CF patients with the innovative treatment, but he would not be changing his position on the issue.

“I will not be bullied or intimidated by a drug company, and I will not have the taxpayer in this country extorted by a pharmaceutical company holding our CF patients in their hands.”

He said he is hoping for a positive outcome: “I have asked and expect that there will be innovative ways of examining how we can make this drug available.”

Mr Harris said he was continuing to collaborate with ministerial colleagues in many other countries on the matter. “This is not an Irish phenomenon. Many countries have tried to provide this drug for their CF patients.”

Simon Harris
Simon Harris

Other countries including Britain, Canada, and Australia had not managed to make the drug available for CF patients through the public health services.

“International collaboration is really the key in relation to the issue. I really hope this engagement is successful, but it has to be meaningful,” said Mr Harris.

The HSE and Vertex started negotiations earlier this year when the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics found Orkambi was unjustifiably expensive at €159,000 per patient per year.

Last week, hundreds of people took part in an emotionally charged protest outside Leinster House demanding patient access to the drug.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien said he was currently not going to encourage a “high level of optimism” because they needed to know the company’s position.

He said the HSE was very happy to pay a fair price for the drug and one that recognised the clinical impact of a new pharmaceutical development. But the health authority did insist pharmaceutical companies respected the well-established, highly efficient process that they had, which had worked very well for most other pharmaceutical developments.

Vertex should not expect to be able to fly into this country and hold it up to ransom in the way that, up till now, they had sought to do, he said.

“I hope that’s over and we now have meaningful engagement and, if we do, then we can see progress. But, at this stage, I would not want to project an unrealistically high level of optimism.”

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