Sanders to Trump: Don’t Make a Bad Deal

BURLINGTON, Vt., March 11 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked the Army not to surrender legal rights to a promising vaccine for the Zika virus after the government invested more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds to research and develop the possible treatment.

Sanders is a leader in combating soaring drug prices in the United States where consumers already pay more for medicine, by far, than anywhere else in the world.

The senator, in a letter to acting Army Secretary Robert Speer, expressed concern that the Pentagon is about to grant exclusive marketing rights to the Zika vaccine to Sanofi, a French-based multi-national drug maker, with no limit on how much it may charge consumers.

“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 wrote in a letter to the Army. “This could add significantly to the outrageous drug prices that the American people, Medicare, Medicaid and the U.S. military are already paying.”

Sanders said the onus is on the White House to stop the giveaway. “If Mr. Trump allows this deal, Sanofi will be able to charge whatever astronomical price it wants for its vaccine,” Sanders wrote in an op-ed published in Saturday’s edition of The New York Times. “Before President Trump makes this deal, he must guarantee that Sanofi will not turn around and gouge American consumers.”

It wouldn’t be the first time. The high-priced prostate cancer drug Xtandi was developed at UCLA with taxpayer-funded research grants and support from the Army and the National Institutes of Health. UCLA licensed the drug to a small biotech company in San Francisco. Pfizer Inc. paid $14 billion to acquire that company last year. Americans are being charged $129,000 for a one-year treatment. The same drug regimen costs just $30,000 in Canada.

“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 wrote.

Sanders stressed that he strongly supported the research to combat the disease to treat American soldiers and to lessen the risk to babies of pregnant mothers who contract the disease. Babies born to American women with the Zika virus last year were 20 times as likely to have birth defects, according to a study released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To read the senator’s letter to the acting Army secretary, click here.

To read The New York Times op-ed, click here.