After weeks of anticipation, Jacobus Pharmaceutical, a small, family-run drug maker, has priced its rare disease drug at $80 a tablet, or less than half the price of a similar pill sold by its upstart rival, Catalyst Pharmaceuticals (CPRX). And the move is likely to set up a closely watched battle amid what is already one of the more unusual pharmaceutical tales of the year.
At issue are rival treatments for Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, or LEMS. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Jacobus drug for children ages 6 to 17, potentially adding unforeseen competition for Catalyst, which only last November won an FDA endorsement to market its own treatment for adults.
But the FDA approval of the Catalyst drug caused a ruckus. Until then, a few hundred LEMS patients were able for years to obtain the Jacobus drug for free under a compassionate use program sanctioned by the agency. However, with its approval, Catalyst obtained seven years of market exclusivity, which meant Jacobus could no longer market its version. And while Catalyst runs patient assistant programs to offset the $375,000 or more annual cost of its drug, taxpayers and insurers are picking up the tab. Sen. Bernie Sanders accused Catalyst of “immoral exploitation.”