One of the most politically-connected yet scandal ridden vaccine companies in the united states, with troubling ties to the 2001 anthrax attacks and opioid crisis, is set to profit handsomely from the current coronavirus crisis.
by Whitney Webb and Raul Diego
Part 13 - Corning the COVID-19 market
Emergent’s history of corruption and profiteering has in no way prevented them from cashing in on the COVID-19 global health crisis. On March 10, Emergent announced a partnership with Novavax to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, a vaccine also backed by the Bill Gates-backed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). CEPI had previously partnered with Emergent Biosolutions, giving them over $60 million in 2018. Emergent further expanded its partnership with NovaVax on March 31.
Just 8 days after partnering with Novavax, Emergent partnered with yet another producer of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate, VaxArt. Unlike the Emergent-Novavax vaccine, the vaccine candidate co-produced with VaxArt will be oral and in pill form, “offer[ing] enormous logistical advantages in the roll-out of a large vaccination campaign,” according to VaxArt CEO Wouter Latoud.
While backing two of the most prominent vaccine candidates for COVID-19 gives Emergent an advantage in terms of profiting from whatever vaccines end up being approved for use by the government, Emergent’s star has risen during the current Coronavirus crisis largely thanks to its two experimental blood plasma treatments.
Announced just one day after their Novavax vaccine partnership, Emergent’s first experimental blood plasma treatment involves pooling and concentrating blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, while the second uses plasma taken from horses that have been injected with parts of the virus. These treatments were slated to begin clinical trials later this year, but have been greatly aided by HHS’ BARDA, which falls under the authority of Robert Kadlec. These treatments are now expected to begin Phase II trials by late summer.
On April 3, BARDA awarded Emergent Biosolutions $14.5 million for the development of its blood plasma treatment. Though the sum is smaller than other contracts Emergent has received from BARDA in the past, the partnership allows Emergent to overcome its greatest obstacle in developing this product, a massive supply of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. Thanks to their partnership with BARDA, Emergent will gain access to blood donations made by recovered COVID-19 to public blood centers.
Emergent’s Dr. Lisa Saward confirmed this in a recent interview with TechCrunch, stating “we are overcoming [the lack of “source material” i.e. blood plasma] with the help of partnerships like that of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority within Health and Human Services, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced earlier this week.”
However, Emergent’s use of donated plasma to develop its product may prove controversial, since the plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients is currently being used as a treatment for seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The use of plasma to treat critical patients began late last month after New York’s state government first authorized its use in such cases, followed by the FDA’s offer to approve its use for critical COVID-19 patients nationwide on a case-by-case basis. Yet, thanks to the BARDA and Emergent partnership, a significant amount of that plasma will instead go towards helping Emergent corner yet another key market.