BOSTON, Massachusetts — Based in Boston, Massachusetts, pharmaceutical company Vertex has made their life-saving cystic fibrosis drug, Trikafta, unavailable to poorer countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. With the cost of the medication rising, advocacy group Just Treatment has petitioned governments asking to revoke Vertex’s patent to Trikafta, making it more accessible to those facing poverty. With over 150,000 people worldwide living with cystic fibrosis and many not being able to get the diagnosis due to financial issues, Trikafta could be vital to those struggling with both the disease and poverty.
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Cystic Fibrosis and Poverty
According to Mayo Clinic, cystic fibrosis is an “inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body.” In the past, living with cystic fibrosis was much harder, but now the quality of life for those with it has immensely improved for only those with the resources for treatment.
A U.S. study from 2020 found that socioeconomic background and health care can play a role in cystic fibrosis outcomes in children. Similarly, another study from 2014 observed that low socioeconomic status can impact lung function, the study writing: “This suggests that environmental and social factors have an important influence on lung function in people with cystic fibrosis.” Besides that, people with chronic illnesses such as cystic fibrosis who are of lower economic status tend to experience depression.
Poverty and environment can impact the severity of a disease, especially if the health care quality is lower and treatments are financially unavailable.
Cystic Fibrosis Treatment
Cystic fibrosis causes problems with breathing and digestion due to mucus clogging that can cause far more severe damage to the organs. Most cases are detected soon after birth through newborn blood spot testing and more testing is required for a diagnosis, including a sweat and genetic test.
There are many treatments for cystic fibrosis that make life easier for those with cystic fibrosis. This includes antibiotics, mucus thinners, anti-inflammatory medication and special devices to help to breathe. If sustained damage happens, a lung transplant may be necessary.
Trikafta and Just Treatment
Trikafta is a “prescription medicine used for the treatment of cystic fibrosis” that combines medications elexacaftor, tezacaftor and ivacaftor to target “protein defects” that cystic fibrosis mutations cause. The treatment requires patients to take three tablets daily and Vertex has listed the price as over $322,000 annually in the U.S., despite manufacturing costs being $5,700.
Although Vertex has said they are continuing “to work actively to expand access”, the company has been criticized before for their pricing. U.K. health officials fought Vertex over the cost of another cystic fibrosis drug named Orkambi, Fierce Pharma reports. Despite what Vertex’s spokespeople say, the company has not been making Trikafta available in the developing world and has bought the patents for the drugs in multiple countries to stop competition.
A report by the Journal of Cystic Fibrosis wrote that 88% of people with cystic fibrosis worldwide did not have the ability to use Trikafta. To fight the pharmaceutical’s efforts to maximize profits, the U.K.-based advocacy group Just Treatment has been petitioning South American, Brazilian, Indian and Ukrainian governments to free up the drug’s patents, Fierce Pharma reports. This would include local drug production, making it much more affordable for those experiencing poverty. Just Treatment’s goal is to “secure affordable genetic access to these extremely expensive medicines.
Illness and Poverty
Illness and poverty feed into each other; poverty makes it hard for people to afford medical care, while poor health makes it harder for people to survive. In developing countries, an illness can cost a family’s income to cover medical expenses.
– Audrey Gaines