Eight senators pile on to Marathon's Emflaza—and its $89,000 pricing blunder

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Eight senators have requested information about Marathon's pricing on Emflaza, including details on development costs, payer contracts and patient assistance programs.

Marathon’s Emflaza pricing remains in an unwelcome spotlight as eight more senators zero in on the company and its newly approved Duchenne muscular dystrophy med. The U.S. lawmakers join a growing chorus who have “serious questions” about the med's $89,000 price tag.

A group of senators, including Democrats Patty Murray, Tammy Baldwin, Corey Booker and Al Franken, reached out to Marathon CEO Jeffrey Aronin in a letter Friday, demanding more information about Emflaza’s development costs. The drug, deflazacort, won FDA approval earlier this year in the muscular disorder, also known as DMD.

Citing press coverage of Emflaza's approval and price tag, the senators are questioning whether there’s any “justification for such a dramatically high price.” As they point out, deflazacort is a decades-old steroid that’s long been available in some countries for about $1,000 per year.

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The senators are also concerned about potential abuses of U.S. orphan drug laws because Marathon won an orphan drug designation and the market exclusivity that goes along with it for Emflaza.

Related: Senator says drugmakers may be misusing FDA orphan drug rules—and costing taxpayers money

By next Monday, the senators want to know the costs that went into Emflaza’s development program at Marathon plus more about sales projections, payer contracts and patient assistance programs.

Their letter follows a similar request by pharma critics Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings, who wrote to Aronin on Feb. 13 requesting more details about the pricing strategy. That same day, Marathon pressed “pause” on Emflaza's commercial launch as pressure on the price tag mounted.

Related: Marathon halts launch of DMD drug as $89K price attracts congressional heat

Since then, trade group PhRMA has joined Marathon’s critics and said it’s looking into the privately-held company’s membership status. PhRMA said Marathon’s actions “are not consistent with the mission of our organization.”

Related: What innovation? PhRMA slams Marathon after $89K pricing scandal

During more than a year of public and political scrutiny into the industry’s pricing, Big Pharma CEOs have worked to distance their companies from those who they say misrepresent the industry with questionable pricing. PhRMA and its biotech counterpart, BIO, have launched image campaigns, as has Pfizer, whose effort highlights the scientific journey from idea to marketed drug.

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