With Vertex and NHS still deadlocked, British pharma lobby touts industry's cooperation on pricing

If the folks at Vertex are rolling their eyes at a new social media campaign from Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), it would certainly be understandable.

The ABPI has rolled out a campaign on Twitter and LinkedIn called “Valuing Medicines,” which includes videos and graphics that seek to explain how the country’s National Health Service (NHS) adopts new drugs.

That process, of course, involves negotiating prices with pharma companies—a process that has been particularly painful of late for Vertex, which has been unable to come to terms with the NHS on its cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi.

The ABPI’s new campaign argues that the NHS has “robust measures” in place for ensuring it’s getting enough value out of the medicines it’s covering. The cornerstone of that strategy is a “voluntary scheme” on new medicines that’s reviewed and revised every five years.

That includes a spending cap on drugs. If the country’s spend on new drugs exceeds that cap, the industry has to refund the difference to the NHS.

A new voluntary scheme that started this year “includes more measures than ever before to ensure that patients in this country can get access to new treatments as quickly as possible,” said Richard Torbett, executive director of commercial policy at the ABPI, in a video the organization recently tweeted (see below). “The agreement also includes measures specifically targeted to England to ensure we’ve got better ways for pharmaceutical companies to work with the system on individual products.”

But the timing of the new campaign seems a bit odd, considering the NHS’ ongoing battle with Vertex—a debate that the ABPI has been weighing in on while it simultaneously makes a case for Britain’s tough approach to greenlighting new drugs.

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Orkambi was approved in Europe in 2015, but the NHS and Vertex remain embroiled in a pricing battle that has kept the product out of reach in Britain. The deadlock has dragged on for so long that in March, Vertex was forced to destroy almost 8,000 expired Orkambi packs.

A petition demanding that the NHS cover Orkambi passed 100,000 signatures recently, triggering a debate in Parliament. During the hearing, Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden said British health officials had walked away from pricing negotiations last year. Leiden met personally with British health minister Matt Hancock in hopes of reviving the negotiations.

RELATED: Still stuck in Orkambi talks, Vertex CEO preps for mano a mano with British health secretary

Even though Vertex is not a member of the ABPI, Torbett has quite vocal about the company’s ongoing standoff with the NHS. On June 5, he said the “stalemate has been going on for too long” in a blog post.

He went on to explain that the value of new medicines in England is determined by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). “We don’t always agree with the approach taken by NICE to assess the value of medicines,” Torbett wrote. “We believe that its methods need to evolve over time as new technologies present new challenges.”

Torbett added that ABPI plans to submit ideas to NICE “to address some of the challenges for treatment for rarer conditions.” He noted that the NHS had offered to cover Orkambi for a period of two years, during which it would collect data on its performance, which would allow “the price to go up or down later depending on the evidence collected.”

Such a plan “represents exactly the sort of flexibility industry has been calling for some time,” Torbett wrote.

Meanwhile, the ABPI continues to advertise the merits of England’s tough approach to valuing medicines. Its tweets this week have included a graph showing that cancer survival rates have doubled in the U.K. in the last 40 years thanks to new medicines, and that the drugs have contributed to an extra 10 years of life expectancy there since the 1960s.

But earlier this week, the ABPI posted a tweet acknowledging that Britain’s process for valuing new drugs is far from perfect. The graphic shows that the U.K.’s access to new medicines is so slow that it takes the region five years to catch up to Germany and France. “We want to change this” the tweet reads.