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Lawmakers vigilant in watching for COVID-19-related price gouging

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A letter from a House of Representatives committee expressing concern over a price hike for a drug that could be used in COVID-19 patients underscores Congress’ readiness to call out what it perceives to be unfair pricing practices during the pandemic.

Committee on Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and committee member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Jaguar Health Inc. (NASDAQ:JAGX) urging the company to reverse a price increase on Mytesi crofelemer.

Monday’s letter is the latest action from Democratic lawmakers to place the burden of COVID-19 product affordability on the manufacturer. In February, 46 House Democrats sent a letter asking President Donald Trump to “ensure that any vaccine or treatment developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars be accessible, available and affordable” (see “Biopharma Industry, Academics Push Back Against Demands for Price Controls”).

Senate and House Democrats also included pricing assurances within the March $2 trillion spending package that require companies to provide a “fair and reasonable” price for COVID-19 countermeasures sold to the government (see “House’s COVID-19 Spending Bill”).

According to the letter from Maloney and Speier, Jaguar increased the price of Mytesi more than threefold while in discussions with NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases regarding the drug’s use in COVID-19 patients.

The antisecretory agent is approved for the symptomatic relief of non-infectious diarrhea in adults with HIV/AIDS on antiretroviral therapy. More than 15 approved antiretrovirals are being evaluated for COVID-19, the lawmakers wrote.

Although FDA rejected Jaguar’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) application for Mytesi on April 7, the company increased the average wholesale price per pill by 230% on April 9, raising the cost to $36.77 from $11.14. For a bottle of 60 pills, the cost jumped to $2,206.12 from $668.52.

“The timing of Jaguar’s price increase raises questions about whether this decision was connected with the company’s expectation that it eventually could market Mytesi to treat coronavirus patients,” Maloney and Speier wrote.

The committee requested all communications between Jaguar’s executives, employees, investors and board members regarding the decision to increase the list price of Mytesi.

Jaguar did not respond to a request for comment.

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