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Sanders Demands to Know Why Drug Went From Free to $375K

The medication, Firdapse, treats a rare neuromuscular disease
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2019 5:50 PM CST
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill last week.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(Newser) – Calling it corporate greed, Bernie Sanders wants a pharmaceutical company's justification for why it charges $375,000 per year for a drug that used to be free. "I am profoundly concerned that Catalyst's actions will cause patients to suffer or die," the Vermont senator and possible presidential contender said in a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals Monday, CNN reports. The drug, Firdapse, is used to treat Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, a rare disease that weakens and fatigues the muscles and affects about 1 in 100,000 Americans. The letter mentions that the company has said many patients will only pay about $10 out of pocket each month for Firdapse; Sanders asked for that claim to be explained.

Calayst Pharmaceuticals told CNN it had no immediate response to Sanders' letter to CEO Patrick McEnany, but released a statement saying a response would be forthcoming and adding that the company's "top priority is improving patient care." Until recently, patients had been able to get the drug for free from Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small company in New Jersey, under an FDA "compassionate use" program, Reuters reports. But in November, Catalyst received FDA approval of Firdapse, as well as exclusive marketing rights, and the company set the new price in December. If Catalyst does not lower the price, Sanders tweeted, "Congress must act." (Sanders also wants to raise the top estate tax rate to 77%.)

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