'Drugs giant must stop putting super-profits before humans': James Reilly

The former Minister for Health said the breakthrough in treatment for cystic fibrosis sufferers has been "soured" because of greed

James Reilly, Michael Lowry, Fine Gael, GE16, coalition, government

Children's Minister James Reilly at the 2015 National Youth Council of Ireland annual conference | Image: RollingNews.ie

The former Minister for Health James Reilly said the company responsible for producing cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi needs to put the needs of patients first.

Writing in the Sunday Independent, he disccused the impact the drug can have  on a patient with cystic fibrosis, saying Orkambi has the potential to help around 25% of the 550 patients who suffer from a particular strain of the illness.

"The development of this drug should be a good news story for CF sufferers", he said. "We should be celebrating this breakthrough but instead this great innovation is soured because of what I believe is greed."

During his time in government, Mr Reilly approved public funding for the use of Kalydeco for CF patients - a drug that has been proven to be effective in nearly 100% of cases where it was indicated. According to Mr Reilly, this is not the case with Orkambi, having only a 25% success rate.

"I think in this situation, Vertex needs to put the needs of patients first and those of senior executives and shareholders second."

Earlier this week, current Health Minister Simon Harris said he entirely agrees that Vertex are ripping off the Irish taxpayer.

Negotiations between the HSE and Vertex are to recommence. However, the HSE has said it cannot pay the near proposed €160,000 per patient per year price tag.

In a statement, the HSE called on the company "to set out a more realistic price which is both reasonable and affordable for Irish patients".

It adds: "In the interests of transparency, the HSE calls once more on Vertex to make it clear to the Irish public the price it intends to charge for this medicine and to stop hiding behind commercial confidentiality clauses."

Simon Harris said he wants to see cystic fibrosis patients get the drug - but that can only happen if Vertex reduce the price.

"We cannot have a company that has a monopoly on one product engaging in price gouging. That's my fear that's what has happened to date."