Tuesday 10 December 2019

Mary Harney 'is not involved' in controversial Orkambi drug in new job

Former Minister for Health Mary Harney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former Minister for Health Mary Harney. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Catherine Devine and Eilish O'Regan

Former health minister Mary Harney will "not be involved" with the controversial Orkambi drug in her new job with the Hanover Group.

The Hanover Group, represent drug-makers Vertex, who is currently in negotiations with the HSE over using the Orkambi drug in Ireland.

A spokesperson for the Hanover Group confirmed to Independent.ie that Ms Harney will have no involvement with the controversial drug.

"We are delighted to have Mary on board as a senior advisor. She is going to provide strategic insight, support and advice to myself and to the wider team as we scale and grow.

"While Mary will be a valued advisor to the company and its clients, she has had no role or contact in relation to Hanover’s work with Vertex."

Around 550 people in Ireland with cystic fibrosis are desperate to try the newest "miracle drug" Orkambi, which targets the underlying cause of the disease - but the original price of €159,900 per patient was deemed too expensive by the HSE.

Ms Harney, who now has her own website and is available for business advisory services and speaking engagements, retired from politics in 2011.

During her term as minister for health, Ms Harney gave the go-ahead to the screening of all newborns for cystic fibrosis.

The screening was added in July 2011 to the standard heel-prick test which is automatically given to all newborns to check for a range of disorders.

Previously, some babies were being diagnosed late, putting them at increased risk of malnutrition and respiratory distress. Crucially, the earlier diagnosis has also been cited as increasing life expectancy.

Around three babies a week are diagnosed with the disease or identified as a healthy carrier of the altered gene that causes it.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition with an incidence of as high as one in every 1,353 births here. The indications are that the screening is already leading to less hospitalisation of babies.

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