Senator Bernie Sanders has set his sights on Big Pharma again, and one company in particular after it hiked the price of a drug to $375,000 when it was previously available at no cost.
In a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals, Sanders asked the company to justify its decision for such a huge price hike for the drug Firdapse, which treats a rare neuromuscular disorder known as Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), Reuters reports. The disorder affects roughly one in 100,000 people in the U.S.
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“Catalyst’s decision to set the annual list price at $375,000 is not only a blatant fleecing of American taxpayers but is also an immoral exploitation of patients who need this medication,” he wrote in the letter.
Sanders (I-Vt.) also asked the company to explain the financial and non-financial factors that led it to hike the price and how many patients will suffer or die as a result. He also wanted to know how much the company was paying to purchase or produce the drug.
Sanders’ inquiry comes at a time when House Democrats and the Republican-led Senate are scrutinizing the pharmaceutical industry amid escalating prescription drug prices, something that’s a top concern among voters. The Trump administration has also set its sights on this issue. It seems to be one of a very few issues that has unified the administration, the House and the Senate, Forbes notes.
For years, Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small family-run New Jersey-based drug company offered the drug to patients at no cost through the “compassionate use” program. This program is offered through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Through the program, patients with rare diseases and conditions are able to obtain experimental drugs outside of clinical trials when no other viable alternative.
Catalyst was granted FDA approval for Firdapse in November 2018. The Florida-based company, which develops and commercializes drugs for rare diseases, was also given exclusive rights to market the drug for several years, having bought the rights to the drug from another company, BioMarin in 2012.
Sanders isn’t the only lawmaker coming after drug companies.
In January, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD), chair of the House Oversight Committee wrote 12 pharmaceutical companies asking them to detail how they set their drug prices. Others, including Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), wrote to the heads of Eli Lily and Co., Sanofi SA, Novo Nordisk, the top manufacturers of insulin, asking for information on why costs on this drug have skyrocketed over the last few years.
The costs for some types of insulin have shot up from $35 all the way up to $270 in some cases.
In his fiery letter to Patrick McEnany, president and CEO of Catalyst Pharmaceuticals Sanders, in his characteristic bluntness, got straight to the point.
“How many patients will suffer or die due to Catalyst’s decision to set the list price at $375,000?”
But that’s not all.
“By setting such a high price and forcing production and distribution of the older, inexpensive version to cease, you are threatening access that patients had to a cheap version of this product, and handing a completely unwarranted bill to American taxpayers,” he wrote.
Sanders has asked the company to respond by February 18.
The video below is a conversation between Sanders and a patient named Rebecca, who has the debilitating disorder.