UK's Johnson, Corbyn bicker over US trade and Vertex deal
As another UK election beckons, prime minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn engaged in yet another dustup about the state of the National Health Service (NHS) in the last round of Prime Minister’s Questions presided by legendary outgoing speaker John Bercow.
Corbyn accused Johnson and his government of conducting ‘secret meetings’ with US pharmaceutical executives as part of a post-Brexit trade deal, citing reports including Channel 4 dispatches that reported on Tuesday that the price the NHS pays for US medicines could soar under a future trade deal.
As is custom, the two leaders blamed the opposite party of inept NHS management and poor resource allocation to the health service during the weekly session at the House of Commons. But a potential trade deal between the “special friends” was on the top of Corbyn’s agenda.
“This government is preparing to sell out the NHS, our health service is in more danger than at any other time in its glorious history because of…the trade deals he wants to strike,” a visibly perturbed Corbyn asserted in an exchange with Johnson.
Johnson reiterated that the NHS is “not on the table” in trade discussions with the United States.
“We have learned this week, that government officials have met US pharmaceutical companies five times as part of the PM’s planned trade deal,” Corbyn argued. “The US has asked for full market access to our NHS, which would mean the prices of some of the most important medicines will increase by up to seven-fold.”
Johnson retaliated by suggesting that it was imperative that the UK negotiates with the US pharmaceutical companies, citing the example of the recent Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ $VRTX deal for cystic fibrosis medicines.
After four years of protracted negotiations, Vertex last week finally clinched a deal with authorities in England to cover the use of its cystic fibrosis drugs, Orkambi and Symkevi, for the eligible 5,000 CF patients in England.
Each drug carries a list price of more than £100,000 per patient per year — the terms of the deal were not divulged. Drugmakers typically negotiate prices with EU countries on a case by case basis after a drug has secured approval from the EMA, but do not typically spell out the nuts and bolts of each agreement.
“The shame is we are not told what the deal is with the company concerned,” Corbyn said, referring to Vertex.
“The SNP (Scottish National Party) government negotiated a much higher price for Orkambi in Scotland, it occurs to me,” Johnson shot back. “They did, they got the price totally wrong — he should have a word with them.”
Scotland announced its deal with Vertex in September. Details of the agreement were not disclosed.
“Recall that Vertex has previously offered the UK an annual cost of 104,000 pounds per year list price, and at the time, it was framing its offer made to England (other terms and any net-adjustment from list were confidential) as the best deal it had offered any country in the world,” Stifel’s Paul Matteis wrote in a note last week.
“(W)hile we can’t be certain, we’d imagine that actual the net price agreed upon with England is something materially below six figures, perhaps in the £50-80k/year range — though again this candidly is speculation.”