Drug maker Gilead has recently come under pressure by U.S. lawmakers to justify the price of its landmark Hepatitis C treatment Sovaldi, which runs $84,000 per dose. Now, it appears that a similar campaign is underway in Canada, with health officials lobbying for a lower price on a critical important cystic fibrosis treatment. This time, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is in the crosshairs of lawmakers and medic practitioners alike, who feel that the price for their novel treatment is prohibitive.
Vertex’s cystic fibrosis drug Kalydeco is among the most effective CF treatments on the market today, in that it gives substantial relief to certain cystic fibrosis sufferers with a specific genetic make-up to their disease. According to a recent article in The Star, “there are about 120 people in Canada who need the $300,000-a-year medication but do not have private coverage.” As a result, health ministers in Canada are calling for Vertex to lower the price.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne, who is at the center of negotiations between the Canadian government and Vertex, was quoted in The Star article as saying that, “The real issue for us … is getting a fair price for Canadians and their families,” and that, “The situation for children and their families who are afflicted by this is very, very difficult.”
While Vertex’s Kalydeco is indeed an extremely high-priced cystic fibrosis treatment, it does not share nearly the same-sized patient population as Gilead’s Sovaldi for the treatment of Hepatitis C; there are more than 150 million people living with Hepatitis C worldwide, 3.2 million of which live in the U.S. While the cost of Sovaldi could prove prohibitive in the U.S.’s Hep C demographic, Canada’s CF population — which numbers about 4,000 — is far smaller.
With this argument in mind, Vertex appears to be negotiating from the position that Kalydeco should be covered and reimbursed by Canada’s public, single-payer health system. “Our discussions regarding the public reimbursement of Kalydeco in Canada are ongoing and active, and we are eager to reach a resolution as soon as possible,” Zachry Barber, director of corporate communications for Vertex, said in an email quoted in the Star article. “We remain hopeful that Kalydeco will be publicly reimbursed across Canada, as it is in many countries around the world.”
Vertex has recently been in the news for reasons other than Kalydeco’s efficacy or lofty price tag — the company recently announced that the results of the latest combined therapy clinical trial involving cystic fibrosis drug Lumacaftor will be released sometime this summer, which will reveal if the drug can also be used to treat a much wider range of CF patients. With this in mind, the company will undoubtedly seek to defend the valuation of its CF treatments in the marketplace going forward.