Scientists are questioning a $433-million government contract for an experimental smallpox drug (ST-246) awarded to Siga Technologies by the Obama administration. Siga, a New York-based pharmaceutical company specializing in disease-causing pathogens, was given a contract in May through a "sole-source" procurement: It was the only company asked to submit a proposal, while the government reportedly blocked other companies from bidding after Siga nearly lost the contract a year ago.
The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that administration officials used deceitful measures to secure the contract, as Siga’s controlling shareholder is one of the world’s wealthiest men and a prominent Democratic Party donor. Interviews, email correspondence, and various documents revealed that the Obama administration replaced the project’s lead negotiator after Siga complained that contracting specialists at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) repelled its financial demands. Critics question the contract, especially in light of the fact that smallpox is no longer a threat. The Times reported:
Once feared for its grotesque pustules and 30% death rate, smallpox was eradicated worldwide as of 1978 and is known to exist only in the locked freezers of a Russian scientific institute and the U.S. government. There is no credible evidence that any other country or a terrorist group possesses smallpox.
If there were an attack, the government could draw on $1 billion worth of smallpox vaccine it already owns to inoculate the entire U.S. population and quickly treat people exposed to the virus. The vaccine, which costs the government $3 per dose, can reliably prevent death when given within four days of exposure.
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