[Editor's note: smallpox is indeed a horrifying and terrible disease; this cannot be overstated. It is not the intent of this article to mitigate the very real and terrible nature of the disease. The point of this article is to question the White Houses’ intentions in this deal.]
How could a multimillion dollar investment in an antiviral pill that could cure smallpox be scandalous?
Part of the reason lies in the word “could.” The drug has never been tested on humans.
See, smallpox was all but eliminated in 1978 and the U.S. already has vast stockpiles of the original vaccine. Why would the current administration push so vigorously to millions of dollars in what could rightly be described as an unnecessary (and untested) drug?
As the saying goes, “follow the money.”
The company that scored the federal contract is called Siga Technologies and they won it through a “sole-source” procurement; they are the only company that will be doing business with the Feds.
And here’s the best part: the controlling of Siga Technologies is billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, one of the world’s richest men and a longtime Democratic Party donor, reports the Los Angeles Times. Moreover, back in June 2010, Siga named Andrew Sterns (former head of the SEIU) to its board.
That certainly raises some eyebrows.
Surprisingly enough, the deal gets even more suspicious. Newser reports:
In a Solyndra-esque tale, White House officials overrode bureaucrats who advised against the deal and Siga’s high price, replacing government negotiators and blocking other companies from submitting competing bids . . .
. . . White House officials defended their move, noting a 2004 study that called smallpox one of 12 pathogens that were a “material threat” to be used as a biological weapon.
So let’s get this straight: the Obama administration replaced anyone who advised against the deal and then invested millions of dollars on an untested drug for the express purpose of preparing for a smallpox attack?
Admittedly, a smallpox bomb (or however they would do it) is a terrifying thought. But the investment still seems a bit excessive, if not downright paranoid.
If there was an actual smallpox attack, the U.S. government has an estimated $1 billion worth of smallpox vaccine on hand and ready to go. There is actually enough of the medicine to inoculate the entire U.S. population and quickly treat people exposed to the virus.
Furthermore, as mentioned briefly in the above, Siga’s drug has not yet been tested on humans and what little testing has been performed on animals cannot be proven to be effective.
So why invest in an untested, unproven and unneeded product?
“We’ve got a vaccine that I hope we never have to use — how much more do we need?” said Dr. Donald Henderson, the epidemiologist who led the global eradication of smallpox for the World Health Organization and later helped organize U.S. biodefense efforts under President George W. Bush, accoridng to the Times report.
“The bottom line is, we’ve got a limited amount of money,” he added.
Just in case the deal didn’t seem suspicious enough, here are some other interesting facts:
- The smallpox vaccine currently stockpiled by the U.S. government has a shelf life of several decades
- The new untested drug from Siga is guaranteed for only 38 months
Oh yeah, and Siga Technologies will make a killing from the sale:
The contract calls for Siga to deliver 1.7 million doses of the drug for the nation’s biodefense stockpile. The price of approximately $255 per dose is well above what the government’s specialists had earlier said was reasonable, according to internal documents and interviews.
Although the company had originally won the contract on an exclusivity basis, and administration officials had intended to award Siga the “exclusive option to replenish or expand the stockpile,” the White House had to back off that portion of their agreement because the smaller pharmaceutical company Chimerix protested.
“In June, the government settled the dispute by dropping the exclusivity provision,” writes the Times. “That limited the value of Siga’s contract to $433 million and meant that other companies could compete to fill future orders for the drug.”