U.S. lawmakers question Jaguar Health on price hike of drug that may help treat COVID-19 patients

(Reuters) – The chair of a House of Representatives committee and a fellow Democratic committee member on Monday urged Jaguar Health Inc to reverse recent price hikes of a drug that could be used to treat side effects in COVID-19 patients and asked that Jaguar provide information on the price increases.

In a letter to Jaguar, Representative Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Representative Jackie Speier criticized Jaguar for what they said was a nearly threefold price increase of the drug, Mytesi, from $688.52 to $2,206.52 per bottle of pills, in early April.

They asked Jaguar to provide all communications pertaining to the price increases to the Committee on Oversight and Reform by May 18.

“We are concerned that the nearly three-fold price increase your company imposed … may prevent Americans from accessing Mytesi if it is approved for use during the current coronavirus outbreak,” the letter said.

Jaguar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mytesi is currently approved for use in treating diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms in patients being treated for HIV or AIDs with antiretroviral drugs. Jaguar Health in March applied for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Mytesi to treat similar symptoms in coronavirus patients, who are also sometimes treated with antiretroviral drugs, which reduce the severity of viral infections.

The FDA denied the application last month, but Jaguar Health has reportedly been in ongoing talks with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about the effectiveness of Mytesi for coronavirus patients, the letter said.

“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,” the letter said.

Mytesi, also called crofelemer, is a botanical drug derived from a substance known as dragon’s blood, which is a resin extracted from the South American tree Croton lechleri.

It was developed through a partnership between Jaguar’s predecessor, Napo Pharmaceuticals, and Salix Pharmaceuticals, which later became part of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a specialty pharmaceutical company that was the subject of lawsuits and federal probes tied to its marketing practices.

The partnership was dissolved in 2016 as a result of a legal settlement that saw rights to the treatment return to Napo, which later merged with another company to form Jaguar Health.

Gilead Science Inc’s (GILD.O) remdesivir recently received FDA approval as an antiviral treatment for COVID-19, making it the first drug approved by U.S. regulators to treat the illness, which has infected more than 1 million people in the United States and killed more than 65,000.

Remdesivir was originally developed as a treatment for the Ebola virus. Other antiviral drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, have been used off-label to treat patients with the coronavirus.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Leslie Adler

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