March 14, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling on President Donald Trump to carefully manage a deal between the U.S. Army and France-based pharma firm Sanofi (SNY) to develop a Zika virus vaccine.

Sanders is concerned the French company will be granted exclusive marketing rights to the virus, which could, in his opinion, lead to price gouging. In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Sanders said the deal, which is backed by seed funding of $43 million from the government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, will likely lead to astronomical process for the vaccine. If early testing is successful, Sanofi stands to gain an additional $130 million to fund Phase III clinical trials. Sanders, who has been an outspoken critic against high drug prices, taking on companies like Ariad (ARIA), Eli Lilly (LLY) and Marathon Pharmaceuticals, said the deal gives Sanofi a near-monopoly on a Zika vaccine and will allow that company to charge whatever it wants for the treatment against the mosquito-borne virus–even after taxpayers funded the research, which means that Americans have to pay twice for the drug, he said.

“This means American consumers could pay twice: Once for the development of this vaccine through their tax dollars and then to the company, which would be allowed to charge any price that it wants for this drug if and when it is approved for marketing,” Sanders said in a statement on his Senate website. “This could add significantly to the outrageous drug prices that the American people, Medicare, Medicaid and the U.S. military are already paying.”

It’s for that reason that Sanders is calling on Trump to ensure that if Sanofi continues to develop this vaccine with U.S. funds, the president must extract guarantee that Sanofi “will not turn around and gouge American consumers.” In his column, he pointed to Trump’s promises to protect American consumers from badly negotiated deals by the government. He said Sanofi is a for-profit pharmaceutical company that saw revenues of approximately $40 billion in 2015. Because of how easily the Zika virus can be transferred not only between mosquito and human, but through human-to-human contact as well, it’s critical that any Zika vaccine developed through the taxpayer-supported funding should be “accessible and affordable to all those who need it.“

Sanders said there is precedent to the price-gouging concerns. He pointed to Pfizer (PFE)’s cancer drug Xtandi, which was developed at UCLA with taxpayer-funded research grants and support from the Army and the National Institutes of Health. The drug was licensed to Bay Area’s Medivation (MDVN), which was snapped up by Pfizer last year for $15 billion. Sanders said one year of treatment with Xtandi costs American consumers $129,000, while Canadian consumers only pay $30,000 for the same drug.

While Sanders was critical of the deal with Sanofi, he said developing a Zika vaccine is important as it could prevent birth defects in children born to women with the virus. But, he said any movement on the vaccine development should include assurances of price controls.

“Our government must stop being pushovers for the pharmaceutical industry and its 1,400 lobbyists. We must not hand this gift to a French drug company without making it pledge not to overcharge American consumers,” Sanders said. The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that causes mild flu-like symptoms in most people. In pregnant women, it may be linked to an increased rate of microencephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a smaller-than-normal head and brain size. Life expectancy for individuals with microencephaly is reduced and the prognosis for normal brain function is poor. The virus may also be linked to an uncommon autoimmune disorder of the nervous system called Guillain-Barré syndrome. With no available vaccine or treatment modalities, the World Health Organization declared Zika virus an international public health emergency.

Sanofi is not the only company working on developing a Zika vaccine. Other companies including Vaxart, Takeda (TKPYY) and Google (GOOG)’s Verily are all working on vaccines.



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