Feds' $433M Smallpox Drug Contract a Controversial One

White House overrode experts, pushed for deal
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2011 5:00 AM CST
A patient is vaccinated against contagious diseases March 6, 2003 in London.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – Smallpox was virtually eliminated 33 years ago and already has a cheap, effective vaccine that exists in large quantities. So why is the Obama administration pushing so hard to spend $433 million on an expensive and experimental smallpox drug that might not be needed and might not work? Perhaps it's because the drug, ST-246, is made by Siga Technologies, whose controlling shareholder is billionaire Ron Perelman, a longtime Democratic Party supporter, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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. "We've got a vaccine that I hope we never have to use—how much more do we need?" said one of the epidemiologists who led the WHO's fight against smallpox. Another smallpox expert called the plan to stockpile ST-246 "a waste of time and money." The pill is intended for those whose diagnosis comes too late for the vaccine to be effective—but ST-246 can't be tested on people. But 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. (Read more smallpox stories.)

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