Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he hopes the process to determine if the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi can be covered by the Health Service Executive can be concluded within a period of weeks.

This evening, progress has been reported in discussions with the makers, US firm Vertex, and talks are said to be entering a critical stage.

Around 550 patients could benefit from any agreement.

The makers had originally sought €159,000 a year per patient, a price Mr Harris described as exorbitant.

An assessment for the HSE found it was not cost effective at tha price.

Mr Harris said this evening that his overriding priority is to make sure that any agreement reached would provide certainty to Irish CF patients on the provision of Orkambi and Kalydeco - another CF drug also made by Vertex.

He said that given the level of investment and the scale of the potential benefits for CF patients, there are important commercial and contractual aspects which have to be agreed in the interests of patients and the health service overall.