WASHINGTON (Good Medical) – US Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday sent a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals asking him to justify his decision to charge $ 375,000 a year for a drug that patients had been given free for years.

US Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a press conference on Yemen's resolution on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 30, 2019. Good Medical / Yuri Gripas.

The drug, Firdapse, is used to treat Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a rare neuromuscular disease, according to the letter, made available to Good Medical by the senator's office. The disease affects about one in 100,000 people in the United States.

The government is intensifying its review of the pharmaceutical industry and rising prescription drug prices, a priority concern for voters and the priority of President Donald Trump's administration.

The Democratic-led US House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate have begun holding hearings this year on soaring drug costs. Sanders is an independent who generally votes with the Democrats.

In his letter dated February 4, Sanders asked Catalyst to indicate the financial and non-financial factors that led the company to set the price quoted at $ 375,000 and to indicate the number of patients who would suffer or die. because of this price and how. she paid a lot to buy or produce the drug.

Catalyst refused to comment on Sanders' letter.

Catalyst shares fell nearly 8% to $ 2.31

For years, patients were able to obtain the same drug free of charge from Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey, which offered it through a US program called "compassionate use" of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). .

The program allows patients with rare diseases and conditions to have access to experimental drugs outside of a clinical trial when there is no viable alternative.

Catalyst, based in Florida, received Firdapse's approval by the FDA in November, as well as exclusive marketing rights for the drug for several years. The company, which bought the rights to the drug from a company called BioMarin in 2012, develops and markets drugs for rare diseases.

BioMarin and the FDA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In December, Catalyst announced that the price of Firdapse would be $ 375,000 per year.

"Catalyst's decision to set the annual catalog price at US $ 375,000 is not just a blatant flogging of US taxpayers, it is also an immoral exploitation of patients who need this drug," Sanders writes in his letter. .

Sanders joins other US lawmakers to investigate pricing practices of pharmaceutical companies this year.

Democratic representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House's oversight committee, wrote to 12 pharmaceutical companies in January asking for detailed information on how they set drug prices.

Democratic representatives Frank Pallone and Diana DeGette wrote to leaders of Eli Lilly and Co, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi SA, the leading long-standing insulin manufacturers, to ask for information on why the price of the drug soared these last years.

Report by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Edited by Sonya Hepinstall and Susan Thomas