£11 million-a-year US pharmaceutical boss is accused of trying to ‘blackmail’ Theresa May into buying cystic fibrosis drug

By Stephen Adams and Glen Owen

The boss of a US pharmaceutical giant was last night accused of trying to ‘blackmail’ Theresa May into buying a groundbreaking drug at an eye-watering annual cost of £100,000 per patient.

Thousands of people with the deadly lung condition cystic fibrosis (CF) have been pleading with NHS bosses to strike a deal with Vertex over Orkambi, a new treatment that could extend their lives by years.

The talks collapsed acrimoniously ten days ago, after which Vertex boss Dr. Jeff Leiden wrote to the Prime Minister threatening to scale back the firm’s investment in the UK unless NHS England agreed to buy Orkambi on its terms.

In an extraordinary outburst, Dr. Leiden accused Britain of placing ‘a lower value on the life of a CF patient than other countries’ which have purchased Orkambi, and warned that British jobs relied on his benevolence.
The row comes amid growing anger among health chiefs about how the ‘profiteering’ of drugs companies is heaping pressure on the NHS budget.

The starting price for Orkambi negotiations is thought to be £104,000 per patient per year.

Tory MP Bob Stewart said: ‘Drug companies have every right to turn a profit to fund their vital research and development work, but it is completely immoral to overcharge for a life-saving drug. If the CEO is trying to blackmail the Prime Minister that is utterly disgraceful.’

In his letter to Mrs. May, Dr. Leiden, who received £11 million in salary and stock options last year, wrote: ‘Vertex is heavily committed to the UK with its international HQ in London, an R&D site near Oxford and runs many clinical trials in the NHS. Since 2006, Vertex has invested over £1.2 billion in the UK and now employs 250 people, of whom over 110 are scientists.’

But he added: ‘We are questioning this ecosystem as [the UK] is unable to value life-changing medicines for the patients that need them.’ Without major changes to how new drugs were assessed, he pointedly warned that ‘any future biotech investment in the UK is at significant risk’.

In 2014, Dr. Leiden, who owns a string of waterfront homes in Massachusetts and Florida, faced a shareholder revolt over his ‘exorbitant’ pay package of almost £35 million. Orkambi is the only current therapy that slows the inevitable progression of CF. It could benefit up to half of the 10,500 Britons with the condition.

CF causes lungs to produce too much mucus, reducing their effectiveness. Around half of sufferers die before the age of 47, but Orkambi has been shown to boost lung function by 42 percent.

Catherine Upstone, from Brackley, Northamptonshire, whose daughter Cerys, 14, is one of those who could benefit from Orkambi, said: ‘The two sides need to get back around the table.’

But NHS England boss Simon Stevens recently told MPs that Vertex must first drop its price.

‘Right now, the company is a very long way from acting responsibly,’ he said. ‘The implication of the kinds of prices that are being talked about would either be to deny patients those drugs or to rip off British taxpayers, and neither of those situations is acceptable.’

Vertex’s chief commercial officer Stuart Arbuckle said the firm had made NHS England ‘the best offer in the world, which provides all eligible patients immediate access to our current and future medicines. However, the NHS wants our existing medicines and those coming down the line in the next year for no extra money – this is essentially asking for our medicines for free.’

NHS England said: ‘If Vertex believes they are offering a reasonable deal, they should waive their confidentiality clause and let patients and taxpayers judge whether it is fair.’

Original article here.

A Drug Costs $272,000 a Year. Not So Fast, Says New York State.

From The New York Times:

A Drug Costs $272,000 a Year. Not So Fast, Says New York State.

New York’s Medicaid program says Orkambi, a new drug to treat cystic fibrosis, is not worth the price. The case is being closely watched around the country.

A wave of breakthrough drugs is transforming the medical world, offering hope for people with deadly diseases despite their dizzying price tags.

But what if it turns out that some of these expensive new drugs don’t work that well?

That’s the quandary over Orkambi, a drug that was approved in 2015 for cystic fibrosis and was only the second ever to address the underlying cause of the genetic disease. Orkambi, which is sold by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, costs $272,000 a year, but has been shown to only modestly help patients.

Now, in a case that is being closely watched around the country, New York state health officials have said Orkambi is not worth its price, and are demanding that Vertex give a steeper discount to the state’s Medicaid program. The case is the first test of a new law aimed at reining in skyrocketing drug costs in New York’s Medicaid program.

The high price of prescription drugs has ignited a populist furor, and in May, the Trump administration unveiled a set of proposals to address the issue. But while the ideas at the federal level are still mostly theoretical, some states have begun tackling the issue themselves. Earlier this year, Massachusetts asked the federal government for permission to limit its coverage of drugs in an effort to secure larger discounts from drug makers. Other states, like California and Vermont, have passed laws requiring drug companies to turn over certain financial details if they raise prices significantly.

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“There’s a number of states that are really trying to push forward and say, we need to be thinking very differently about how we’re paying for drugs,” said Matt Salo, the executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “We need the ability to say that there are some drugs that are just not priced in a rational way.”

Orkambi held great promise for people with cystic fibrosis when it was approved three years ago. A similar drug, Kalydeco, approved in 2012, was viewed as groundbreaking because it was the first to try to counteract the genetic defect that causes cystic fibrosis. The disease, which affects about 30,000 Americans, leads to a buildup of sticky mucus in the lungs and can lead to death by respiratory failure by the time many people are 40.

But while Kalydeco, also known as ivacaftor, was found to be effective, it was only approved for a sliver of patients with the disease — those who had certain genetic mutations. Orkambi, which combines ivacaftor and another drug, lumacaftor, was approved for mutations that covered nearly half of cystic fibrosis patients, but studies showed it was not as effective as Kalydeco.

Since Orkambi’s approval, several countries have balked at paying for it, including Britain, France and Canada.

In the United States, private insurers and Medicare plans have generally covered Orkambi. Medicaid programs, which cover health insurance for the poor, are required to cover all drugs.

Still, many insurers require patients to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, and even though Vertex offers assistance, not everyone qualifies.

Lora Moser, 40, is covered by Medicare because she is disabled, and said she had to stop taking Orkambi in January because she could not afford the first month’s payment of more than $3,000 required by her insurer, Humana. A spokeswoman for Humana said that for high-cost drugs like Orkambi, the insurer helps patients identify outside assistance programs to cover out-of-pocket costs.

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Ms. Moser said a nonprofit group that had provided financial assistance declined to renew her grant because, she said she was told, her annual household income was too high.CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

A nonprofit group that had provided assistance the previous year to Ms. Moser declined to renew her grant because, she said she was told, her annual household income was too high. She said her income is about $600 above their limit.

“I’ve never felt more destitute and hopeless as I do right now, from a medical standpoint,” Ms. Moser said.

A spokeswoman for Vertex, Heather Nichols, said more than 99 percent of cystic fibrosis patients who are eligible to take Orkambi in the United States have “broad access” to the drug.

“Vertex has a longstanding commitment to supporting access for all eligible patients, and we will continue to oppose any attempts to restrict patient access to these transformative medicines,” Ms. Nichols said.

Despite its lukewarm reception, Orkambi has been a boon for Vertex. In 2017, the drug was its top-selling product, bringing in about $1.3 billion in sales, a considerable sum for a product that is only approved to treat about 28,000 people worldwide.

Dr. Steven D. Pearson, the president of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, which evaluates the cost-effectiveness of drugs, said the problem is that in the United States, drug companies control the prices, especially in the case of newly approved drugs like Orkambi.

“Our system is set up not to distinguish very well between those drugs that are fairly priced and those that are not,” he said. Dr. Pearson’s institute concluded that Vertex’s cystic-fibrosis drugs should be discounted by as much as 77 percent. “That gives the incentive to the company to overreach, and that’s part of why our system is so out of whack,” he said.

In April, Orkambi became the test case for the New York law when a state board ruled that the drug was not worth its cost, recommending that it be discounted from the list price by roughly 70 percent — an amount that was influenced by work done by Dr. Pearson’s institute. New York’s law, passed in 2017, allows the state to ask manufacturers for a deeper discount if the state’s Medicaid drug budget exceeds a certain amount.

Under federal law, state Medicaid programs get a rebate of at least 23 percent. New York officials said that they identified 30 drugs this year that were priced too high, and that those products’ manufacturers agreed to deeper discounts, resulting in about $60 million in annual savings. Vertex, which is based in Boston, was the only company that refused, the state said. New York officials did not identify the manufacturers that agreed to steeper discounts.

For now, at least, Vertex appears to have the upper hand because federal law requires the state to cover Orkambi, although the state can limit its use. Under its new law, New York could also demand that Vertex disclose details about how it sets its price, including how much goes toward research and development or to other areas, like marketing. But even if Vertex complied, that information would not be made public because it is considered proprietary.

Ms. Nichols, the Vertex spokeswoman, said the company had no plans to agree to a discount below the 23 percent required by law.

And Donna Frescatore, the director of New York’s Medicaid program, said she was reluctant to limit the use of Orkambi for those who need it. “It’s certainly a balance with our ability to get fair pricing for this medication,” she said.

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Ms. Moser prepares to administer medication through a nebulizer at her home in Leander, Tex. CreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

But despite the impasse, Mr. Salo said big states like New York are major buyers of prescription drugs, and companies may see an interest in taking those states seriously. “I see this as being of very, very widespread interest,” he said. “A lot of other states are kind of watching and saying, ‘How is that going to work?’”

The debate over Orkambi may soon become moot — earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new cystic fibrosis drug, also made by Vertex. Symdeko, as the drug is called, treats a similar population as Orkambi, but has been proven to be more effective. It carries a list price of $292,000 a year, and some analysts, including Geoffrey Porges, of Leerink, say they believe Symdeko will eventually replace Orkambi.

Given the arrival of Symdeko, some analysts said New York would be smart to negotiate a package deal for all three of Vertex’s cystic fibrosis drugs, similar to a deal recently made with Ireland. Ms. Frescatore said that’s an approach that she would consider.

“You don’t want a patient being forced to take Orkambi because it’s cheaper,” Mr. Porges said. “You want the right patient to get the right medicine.”

Katie Thomas covers the business of health care, with a focus on the drug industry. She started at The Times in 2008 as a sports reporter. @katie_thomas

FDA approves Proteostasis’s triple combination program for CF

Singapore — Proteostasis Therapeutics, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of ground-breaking therapies to treat cystic fibrosis (CF) and other diseases caused by dysfunctional protein processing, announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Fast Track Designation for the Company’s triple combination program for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. The Company’s proprietary triple combination includes a novel cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) amplifier, third generation corrector and potentiator, known as PTI-428, PTI-801 and PTI-808, respectively. The Company announced in January that the protocol for its triple combination clinical study, which the Company plans to initiate in the current quarter, has received endorsement and a high strategic fit score from the Therapeutics Development Network (TDN) and the Clinical Trial Network (CTN), the drug development arms of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) and the European CF Society (ECFS), respectively.

“Fast Track designation represents another positive step for the development of our triple combination therapy and underscores the serious unmet need that remains for the vast majority of CF patients,” said Meenu Chhabra, president and chief executive officer of Proteostasis Therapeutics.

The FDA’s Fast Track program is designed to facilitate the development and expedite the review of new drugs that are intended to treat serious or life-threatening conditions and that demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs. An investigational drug that receives Fast Track program designation is eligible for more frequent communications between the FDA and the company relating to the development plan and clinical trial design and may be eligible for priority review if certain criteria are met.

To read original article click here.

New Promising Results from Phase 3 of Combination Therapy

Findings from a phase 3 trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of tezacaftor in combination with ivacaftor in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) who were homozygous for the Phe508del mutation were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Phe508del mutation has been known to result in greatly reduced conductance regulator (CFTR) protein activity and a loss of chloride secretion, which can lead to impaction of mucus in the airways, gastrointestinal tract, and exocrine organs, with the potential for severe clinical consequences including gradual loss of lung function, nutritional deficits, pulmonary exacerbations, and respiratory failure. It is the most prevalent CFTR mutation worldwide, and affects approximately 46% of American CF patients.

Previous data has shown Ivacaftor’s association with a rate of progressive decline in lung function that is lower than that in untreated patients. In a phase 2 clinical trial involving patients who were homozygous for the Phe508del mutation or heterozygous for the Phe508del and G551D mutations, when combined with the investigational CFTR corrector tezacaftor, it has exhibited enhanced CFTR function and improved lung function.

In August, just one month removed from Vertex’s announcement of positive datafrom Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies, Rare Disease Report covered the acceptance of applications for the use of the tezacaftor/ivacaftor combination treatment in this patient population by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The phase 3 trial enrolled a total of 510 patients 12 years and older with CF who were homozygous for the Phe508del CFTR mutation at 91 sites in the U.S., Canada, and Europe from January 30, 2015 to January 20, 2017. Patients were randomly assigned to be administered either tezacaftor and ivacaftor (administered as a fixed-dose combination tablet containing 100 mg of tezacaftor and 150 mg of ivacaftor in the morning and a tablet containing 150 mg of ivacaftor in the evening) combination therapy or placebo for 24 weeks.

In total, 475 patients completed the full 24 weeks of the trial, with 93.6% (n=235) in the tezacaftor-ivacaftor group and 93% (n=240) in the placebo group. While no significant difference in the body mass index (BMI) was experienced between the groups at week 24, the use of the combination therapy led to a significantly greater absolute change from baseline in the predicted forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) than placebo. Despite advances in standard-of-care therapy, patients with CF continue to lose lung function at a rate of an estimated 1% to 3% per year. This trial exhibited a significant effect of the combination therapy compared to the placebo, as the mean absolute change from baseline in FEV1 through week 24 was 3.4 percentage points in the former, compared to 0.6 in the latter.

The most common adverse events (AEs) among the enrolled patients included infective pulmonary exacerbation, cough, headache, nasopharyngitis, increased sputum production, pyrecia, hemoptysis, oropharyngeal pain, and fatigue. The incidence of AEs was similar in both the group for combination therapy and the placebo group, however, those treated with lumacaftor-ivacaftor in the phase 3 did not experience an increased incidence of respiratory events (33 patients [13.1%] vs. 41 patients [15.9%]).

This improved safety profile of the tezacaftor-ivacaftor combination supports its use in a broad range of patients with CF, and, if approved, the therapy will be the third of Vertex’s drugs approved for CF patients, and the second intended specifically to treat patients with F508del mutations (Orkami [lumacaftor/ivacaftor]).

For original article please visit: http://www.raredr.com/news/phase-3-combination-therapy-cystic-fibrosis?t=physicians

For the published study please visit: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1709846?query=genetics#t=articleDiscussion

UBC research uses genomics to help cystic fibrosis patients

http://www.metronews.ca/news/vancouver/2017/03/29/ubc-uses-genomics-to-help-cystic-fibrosis-patients–.html

The hope is that DNA sequencing burkholderia bacteria that cause life-threatening infections in cystic fibrosis patients will lead to cheaper treatment options. Continue reading UBC research uses genomics to help cystic fibrosis patients

New cystic fibrosis drug (Vertex)

https://www.ft.com/content/aa944954-13f4-11e7-b0c1-37e417ee6c76

Combination treatment offers safer option for patients suffering from deadly illness

Vertex Pharmaceuticals said that a combination of two of its medicines had successfully treated cystic fibrosis in a closely watched clinical trial, paving the way for regulators to approve a Continue reading New cystic fibrosis drug (Vertex)

My Five Takeaways from #NACFC2016

I had a dream last night, and in that dream the Limp Bizkit classic song, Nookie was on repeat for some reason. I have no idea why; I haven’t heard that song in about 12 years. Needless to say I woke up pretty jacked up and motivated to get sh*t done before the Packers game this afternoon. Continue reading My Five Takeaways from #NACFC2016

Moderna, Vertex to collaborate on cystic fibrosis

https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/07/06/moderna-vertex-collaborate-cystic-fibrosis/rEmPx5Ll746RmQL0oUNIiO/story.html

Moderna Therapeutics Inc. has emerged as a partner of choice for drug makers eager to supplement their own research.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. became the latest established biopharma company Continue reading Moderna, Vertex to collaborate on cystic fibrosis

CF Fertility Rates Research ‘Very Personal’ for School of Nursing’s Ladores

For University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Assistant Professor Sigrid Ladores, Ph.D., investigating reproductive health concerns in adolescents and young adults with chronic illnesses, particularly those with cystic fibrosis, is Continue reading CF Fertility Rates Research ‘Very Personal’ for School of Nursing’s Ladores