by Thomas Meek
LONDON, 18 Oct (APM) - The stalemate in England over access to Vertex's cystic fibrosis drugs shows the country is a "tough negotiator" on drug prices, according to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Hancock highlighted rare diseases as one of his priorities in government during a speech at the BioIndustry Association (BIA)'s Bioscience Forum in London on Thursday, saying he wants "everyone to have access to the best treatments for patients".
This has led to "difficult conversations" about how to do this in a way that benefits patients and the health service, considering the high prices of certain disease drugs, he said.
There have been "successes" in some area, with the National Health Service (NHS) and health technology assessment (HTA) body NICE able to negotiate "fair prices" for treatments in areas such as spinal muscular atrophy or batten disease, said Hancock.
"As difficult to some of these negotiations are, many recently have led to successes for companies being able to deliver their new treatments to patients in the UK; to the NHS to get a fair price, because ultimately when the NHS spends money that means it can't be spent elsewhere; and ultimately for patients by getting them access to medicines and treatments that can change their lives."
However, there is still no access agreement in England for Vertex's Orkambi (lumacaftor+ivacaftor) or Symkevi (tezacaftor+ivacaftor) for cystic fibrosis after years of negotiations following an initial NICE rejection. This is despite a deal being made in Scotland last month (APMHE 64352
When questioned by APM on the progress of these negotiations, Hancock said: "In a way, the fact that we haven't yet been able to get the Vertex drugs through shows that we are pretty tough negotiators on this.
"And the truth is that our ability to get good prices is something I'm very proud of. But I hope, especially having met them in the last couple of weeks, that we're able to make some progress on that on that soon."
He added that most companies involved in pricing negotiations are able to get "through that process an awful lot faster".
"I really hope that now having got things going again and vertex very come to the table in the last couple of weeks again we can we can make some progress."
Regarding the access process in general for rare medicines, considering that even more expensive advanced therapies are on the way, Hancock said the country has to ensure that both the licensing and NICE-based processes take into account that "many of the cutting-edge treatments work in a different way".
"And we've got to make sure that we were open to defend the NICE principles and the fact that we have independent and objective analysis to make sure the NHS spending is fair across the piece, but ensure that those principles are then applied according to what works with the way that new drugs are developed."