Fred Baron, Dallas lawyer and Democratic fund-raiser, has terminal cancer, son says

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by By JEFFREY WEISS / The Dallas Morning News

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Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 20 at 2:55 PM

Prominent Dallas lawyer and Democratic Party fund-raiser Fred Baron is dying of cancer -- and fighting a drug company for use of an experimental medication, according to his son, Andrew Baron.

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Lawyer Fred Baron in Dallas in September 2006.

The elder Mr. Baron, 61, was a founder in the Baron & Budd law firm, though he and his wife, Lisa Blue, sold their interest in the firm several years ago.

He was most recently in the news because of his financial connection to former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

News of Mr. Baron's medical condition became public because of an Internet posting by his son, the founder of the Web company Rocketboom.

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In a letter on his personal blog, Andrew Baron said his father was diagnosed with "final stage multiple myeloma," an incurable blood cancer, and was told last week that he had only days to live.

Fred Baron is known in some legal circles as "the King of the Toxic Torts" for his career as a trial attorney suing large companies on behalf of ill clients.

Two years ago, he founded the Texas Democratic Trust, a state political action committee meant to focus on advancing the status of the Democratic Party in Texas.

While the trust has attracted other contributors since its inception, Mr. Baron remains its biggest donor. He's given $621,200 to it in 2008.

Matt Angle, treasurer of the Texas Democratic Trust, confirmed today that Mr. Baron is being treated for cancer.

He said Mr. Baron's family remains hopeful, and "we remain hopeful as well. We're praying for Fred's recovery."

In 2002, Mr. Baron signed on as the top fundraiser for Mr. Edwards' presidential campaign. (Like Mr. Baron, Mr. Edwards - a former U.S. senator from North Carolina - made a fortune as a plaintiffs' attorney.)

Earlier this year, Mr. Baron admitted that he had paid to move a woman Mr. Edwards had an affair with to get her out of the media spotlight.

In his blog post, the younger Mr. Baron says researchers have identified a drug that might help his father - but that the drug company is refusing to allow its use.

The medication, Tysabri, is approved for multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease - but not to treat cancer.

Most prescription medications can be used for "off label" treatments without additional approval. But Tysabria had been pulled from the market once already because of its connection to a rare brain disease, and any off-label use must be approved by its manufacturer, Biogen.

According to Andrew Baron, the company has refused to approve the drug's use on Mr. Baron, despite pleas from Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor; Bill Clinton; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass; and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who was diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumor.

Biogen officials confirmed that they have refused to allow the drug to be used on Mr. Baron. A bad outcome in an uncontrolled use of the drug could lead to increased restrictions on it use for patients who get a clear benefit from the drug, company spokesman Naomi Aoki said.

Staff Writer Gromer Jeffers Jr. contributed to this report.

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