Congressional pharma gadfly Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is stirring up more opposition to the U.S. Army’s planned Zika vaccine transfer to Sanofi. Just a couple of weeks after some of his Democratic colleagues in the House lambasted the proposal, Sanders is taking his message to the public.
Sanders penned a New York Times op-ed challenging the license, writing that the Trump Administration is “on the brink of making a bad deal” for U.S. taxpayers.
“American consumers should not be forced to pay the highest price in the world for a vaccine we paid to help develop,” Sanders tweeted on Friday.
The same day, Sanders wrote a letter (PDF) to Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer urging him to reconsider. U.S. taxpayers supported initial research on the promising vaccine candidate, Sanders figures, so it would be wrong for them to pay more when they need protection.
In the op-ed, Sanders called on President Donald Trump to intervene and guarantee Sanofi won’t “turn around and gouge American consumers, Medicare and Medicaid, or the military.”
Any failure by the government to “stop being pushovers” and ensure price provisions would be just the latest “example of the broader insanity around American drug prices,” the Senator wrote.
Making taxpayers pay twice through such licenses is part of an “insane system,” he added, but isn’t unprecedented. The senator referenced Pfizer and Astellas’ prostate cancer med Xtandi, which was developed with taxpayer dollars and then licensed to the industry. The drug costs about $129,000 per year in the U.S. and $30,000 in Canada, according to the op-ed.
Sanders wants to know more about the proposed length of the Zika vaccine license, plus royalty rates, pricing safeguards and the technology’s taxpayer support to date.
French drug giant Sanofi struck its Zika vaccine partnership with the U.S. Army last July and won $43 million in development support in the fall. The company is expecting to apply for more development assistance if the work moves into later stages.
The proposed license came under fire back in December when nonprofit Knowledge Ecology International started making noise, and several groups have come out against the proposal since. Notably, 11 House Democrats ripped the license in a letter last month.
Among KEI’s complaints were that the license would “not be legal” because it isn’t necessary to motivate the pharma company to develop the vaccine through to the market. A decision on the license is expected later this year, according to Sanders’ op-ed.
Last month, a Sanofi spokesperson said "anything that curtails innovation in healthcare R&D would not be best for the public good." As the world's top flavivirus vaccine developer, Sanofi is "well-positioned" to work with the Army's candidate, she said, and "is capable of making it available to those areas that need it most."