WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Marathon Pharmaceuticals Monday demanding answers about its plan to charge $89,000 per year for deflazacort, a drug that is widely available abroad for approximately $1,000 per year.
“Marathon’s apparent abuse of government-granted exclusivity periods and incentives to sell what should be a widely available drug for $89,000 a year is unconscionable,” Sanders and Cummings wrote in the letter. “Exorbitantly pricing potentially life-saving medications that should be widely available for a fraction of the price hinders patient access and drives up costs for the entire health care sector.”
Deflazacort, used to treat a deadly genetic muscle deterioration disorder that affects about 15,000 Americans, has long been available outside the United States. Recently, Marathon acquired the rights to historical clinical trial data from the 1990s and completed some additional analyses to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the medication in the United States.
“We believe Marathon is abusing our nation’s ‘orphan drug’ program, which grants companies seven years of market exclusivity to encourage research into new treatments for rare diseases – not to provide companies like Marathon with lucrative market exclusivity rights for drugs that have been available for decades,” Sanders and Cummings wrote. Marathon also received another lucrative award from the government, a priority review voucher, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Marathon’s chief financial officer defended the new price tag for deflazacort by claiming it is “modestly priced for an orphan drug.”
“That argument is not a defense of Marathon’s actions, but rather an indictment of a system that allows drug companies to engage in such opportunistic pricing behavior,” the members added.
In Monday’s letter, Sanders and Cummings requested information relating to how Marathon set its price for the drug and how much the company stands to make as a result.
The members first wrote to Marathon in October 2014 regarding the company’s staggering price increases for two older heart medications, Isuprel and Nitropress.
To read the letter, click here.