Smallpox Drug Deal Remains Questionable

Fred Murphy/CDC

A smallpox drug deal between the U.S. government and Siga Technologies raises questions about the cost, effectiveness and practicality of the $433 million deal.

According to a report from the LA Times, the Obama administration awarded Siga Technologies with a lucrative deal to produce 1.7 million doses of a smallpox vaccine for its biodefense stockpile. Siga's controlling shareholder is the high-profile billionaire Ronald O. Perelman, who is also a Democratic Party donor. When the company complained that negotiations to produce the drug weren't going through as quickly as they'd like, the U.S. government put its head negotiator in charge of talks.

It's cost, at $255 per dose, is much more expensive than what had originally been approved. Other companies that could have put forth a more affordable, effective vaccine might have been blocked from competing in a second trial, according to the report. Siga maintains that its drug is different in that it is meant for people who are already infected and diagnosed too late.

It has not been FDA approved, and many within the health field and administration are questioning whether or not the additional vaccine is needed.

Those in favor of bolstering up the nation's defense against the disease or other highly contagious viruses warn that there is significant reason to believe biological warfare will be the weapon of the future. There is no evidence that any terrorist group has access to smallpox, since the only known samples are in highly secure freezers in Russia and within the U.S. government. Still, many biologists say now is the time to prepare for an attack. 

At its heydey, smallpox spread almost uncontrollably and had a 30% death rate. It has been eradicated worldwide since 1978.

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