US Company Estimated To Profit US$21bil From Cystic Fibrosis Drug

NHS in Scotland has rejected cystic fibrosis drugs Orkambi and Symkevi, citing cost effectiveness.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 13 — Vertex is estimated to make US$21 billion (RM88 billion) in profit from its cystic fibrosis medicine, Orkambi, and a sister drug, a research study said. 

The Guardian reported that the drug by the United States pharmaceutical company has been approved for use in the United Kingdom since 2016, but it is still being denied to patients over its cost, due to its list price of £104,000 (RM526,276) per patient per year. 

England’s National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) reportedly doesn’t see it as cost-effective, while the NHS in Scotland, according to BBC, has rejected Orkambi and Symkevi, another cystic fibrosis drug, for routine use, citing cost effectiveness and uncertain long-term health benefits as a reason. 

Vertex said it has invested US$11.8 billion (RM50 billion) into the research and development (R&D) of cystic fibrosis medicines, but Aidan Hollis, an economics professor from Canada’s Calgary University, claimed that this was only a strategy to make more money.

“You put all this money into R&D because it has been enormously profitable for you and you think you are going to be able to charge a lot of money in the future. If you choose to take your money and reinvest it in something, it doesn’t mean you didn’t make profits,” Hollis was quoted saying.

Hollis’ paper estimated that Vertex would make US$21.1 billion in profit throughout the lifetime of Orkambi and an earlier medicine, Kalydeco, which is available on the NHS but is only used for a small number of patients.

The Guardian reported that in the second quarter of 2019, Vertex has seen its revenues up to 25 per cent from last year, with an increase in the expected revenue for the whole year from US$3.6 billion (RM15 billion) to US$3.7 billion (RM16 billion).

Vertex argued with Hollis that it has been very persistent in finding a cure for cystic fibrosis, taking a risk that other companies did not dare to take.

 “Vertex scientists have worked for over 20 years to do what was once thought impossible—develop medicines that treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis,” Vertex was quoted saying.

“Since 2000, Vertex’s investment in drug discovery research and development has totalled US$11.8 billion. In fact, between 2012 and 2017 our research and development costs represented over 70 per cent of our total operating expenses.

“The price of our medicines is based on the value they bring and the difference they make to patients’ lives, their families and societies, as well as the significant R&D investment we have made to develop them and our commitment to finding future treatments. As our medicines treat the underlying cause of disease they not only treat the symptoms but also impact long-term progression,” added the US drug manufacturer.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes persistent lung infections and shortens lives. According to BBC, only about half of those with the disease live till 40.

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