Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Calls the decision of a company to set at $ 375,000 a year a drug previously offered free of charge to people with a rare autoimmune disease "an immoral exploitation of patients who need this medicine. "

In a letter to Catalyst Pharmaceuticals CEO Patrick J. McEneny, dated February 4, 2019, Sanders described the change as "a blatant mowing of US taxpayers," adding, "I am deeply concerned by the actions of Catalyst that will cause suffering or to kill patients ".

In a statement posted on the Senate website, Sanders said Catalyst announced the prices to investors in December.

Shortly after noon, the company stated that there was no one immediately available to answer Sanders' letter.

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The drug in question is called Firdapse, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last November for the treatment of myasthenic Lambert-Eaton Syndrome, or LEMS, in adults.

The FDA describes LEMS as "a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the connection between nerves and muscles and causes weakness and other symptoms in affected patients".

Sanders writes that the active ingredient of Firdapse, 3,4-diaminopyridine, has been used to treat LEMS for almost 30 years and that "clinical efficacy has been established for decades in Europe and the United States" .

Sanders said the cost of the drug was $ 1,600 to $ 6,000 a year.

"Until now, patients could access an unapproved version of this drug free of charge through a compassionate use program from the Food and Drug Administration," Sanders wrote to Catalyst, adding, "In terms of simple, it's about corporate greed.

Sanders asks Catalyst for information on the cost and prices of Firdapse, as well as other questions such as: "How many patients will they suffer or die because of Catalyst's decision to set the annual catalog price? from Fridapse to $ 375,000? "

The high cost of prescription drugs has been identified as one of the factors driving rising health care costs in the United States. In January, the Trump administration announced a plan to eliminate some drug company discounts under government programs such as Medicare to reduce prescription costs.

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Sanders, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, is considering a new presidential race in 2020.

Aki Soga is editor of Insights and Engagement for the Burlington Free Press. Email him at or chat with him on Twitter: @asoga.