Marathon Pharmaceuticals Cashes Out

Apr. 26, 2017 5:06 PM ET1 Comment
Derek Lowe profile picture
Derek Lowe

You may recall Marathon Pharmaceuticals, the small company that announced plans to sell a long-used steroid treatment (Emflaza, deflazacort) in the US to Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients. The price was set to go up steeply, since the company was awarded years of market exclusivity by the FDA (under their program to reward orphan-drug indications like this one).

This business model is the same one followed by a number of other small outfits (see that link above for more), and it’s infuriating. Generic drugs are off patent, by definition, and they’re supposed to be cheap. Taking advantage of regulatory loopholes and perverse incentives to jack their prices up is shameful, unproductive, and expensive. There was quite an outcry when Marathon got this approval, and last month, they abruptly sold the drug to PTC Therapeutics for c. $140 million. PTC has had plenty of trouble trying to develop its own Duchenne drug (the biggest difficulty being that it doesn’t seem to work), so now they can at least say that they have one.

There’s a milestone payment attached to the deal, with details unavailable, and you have to wonder just what will trigger it. PTC is going to have quite a time selling deflazacort after all the publicity, and insurance payers are already making noises about how they’re not going to go along (the proof that it’s better than cheap alternatives like prednisone is not very compelling). The launch will come later this year, and it’ll be interesting to see how it goes off.

Meanwhile Marathon itself appears to be about to disappear. And why not? They’ve turned a quick buck. Endpts, who have been doing a great job on this story, couldn’t find anyone who thought that the company had spent more than $70 million on the drug’s approval, and it was

This article was written by

Derek Lowe profile picture
Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek, email him directly: (

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