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Catalyst Pharma: Orphan Drug Poseur, Profiteer

For the past 20 years, Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a small, private, family-owned pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, has provided LEMS patients in the U.S. (and some in Europe) with an effective drug known as 3,4-Dap free of charge.

Let me repeat: Jacobus gives away 3,4-Dap to LEMS patients FOR FREE!

One more thing: 3,4-Dap is Firdapse. The two drugs are equivalent. The same. Even Catalyst acknowledges that 3,4-Dap is an effective treatment for LEMS.

In other words, Catalyst is developing Firdapse for LEMS and will likely charge U.S. patients more than $60,000 per year even though the same drug is already available to U.S LEMS patients for free.

You can understand why Catalyst doesn't like to discuss this part of the story.

I had the chance to speak with David and Laura Jacobus, the father-daughter team who run Jacobus Pharmaceuticals. The company was founded by David Jacobus in 1977. Today, it sells a couple of drugs in addition to manufacturing and supplying 3,4-Dap to LEMS patients through numerous compassionate use programs set up at leading academic medical centers like Duke, Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.

3,4-Dap has been around for decades but has never been formally reviewed or approved by the FDA. As Laura Jacobus tells the story, 20-odd years ago, the Muscular Dystrophy Association approached her father about manufacturing 3,4-Dap. At that time, doctors were interested in studying 3,4-Dap as a promising treatment for LEMS but a reliable, high-quality supply of the drug was unavailable.

Jacobus agreed to manufacture 3,4-Dap at the MDA's request. In the ensuing decades, the company has built an efficient and trusted relationship with LEMS patients and their doctors. LEMS patients in need of treatment are referred to medical centers with investigator-sponsored IND programs, also known as expanded access or compassionate use programs. A couple of examples can be found here and here. Paperwork is filled out and submitted to the FDA, which grants the doctor permission to treat the LEMS patient with 3,4-Dap .

Once FDA approval is granted, Jacobus is notified and 3,4-Dap is shipped to the doctor free of charge.

"We have a great relationship with the FDA. Before he retired, Rusty Katz used to call me personally to give the okay for these compassionate use cases," said David Jacobus. Katz was the head of the FDA division which reviews and regulates neurologic drugs.

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