by DAVID MITCHELL AND BEN WAKANA
Two weeks ago, we wrote about the importance of affordable vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has positioned itself as a hero stepping up to end the COVID-19 crisis. They trumpet their progress toward a vaccine and announce their unprecedented focus on the pandemic.
But the truth is, the real unsung heroes of this crisis are the U.S. taxpayers funding much of the research and development that will lead to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
According to our new analysis, U.S. taxpayers gave nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars to just three drug companies in one week for COVID-19 drug development.
Drug corporations aren’t acting heroically — they are doing their jobs. Taking hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers in order to manufacture a vaccine and treatments that can yield billions of dollars in profits.
To understand how much money will flow directly from taxpayers to drug corporations, we analyzed one week (March 20-27) of federal contracts through the Federal Procurement Data System and found that just one government agency (BARDA) gave $721 million to three drug corporations.
- Johnson & Johnson: $604 million in taxpayer funding. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) gave Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical subsidiary, Janssen, two contracts — one for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and one for potential COVID-19 antivirals — worth a total of $604 million.
- Regeneron: $92 million in taxpayer funding. BARDA announced a $92 million partnership with Regeneron to research a COVID-19 treatment that uses monoclonal antibodies. According to Regeneron, this partnership is an extension of a 2017 contract in which US taxpayers contribute 80% of the bill for research, development, and manufacturing, while Regeneron kicks in 20%.
- Genentech: $25 million in taxpayer funding. On March 27th, a BARDA contract allocated $25 million to Genentech to fund a phase 3 randomized control clinical trial on Actemra, a candidate for COVID-19 treatment.
In the recent COVID-19 relief packages, Congress appropriated more than $30 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for broad COVID-19 response efforts. Three and a half billion dollars of that was for BARDA, the agency within HHS that focuses on drug development. Based on the BARDA contracts we analyzed, we anticipate that billions of additional taxpayer dollars will continue to flow to pharmaceutical companies. We’ll be here to track it.
Because Americans need to know that pharmaceutical corporations are trying to take credit — and reap enormous profits — for work paid for by American taxpayers. The real heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be executives in corner offices. They’ll be doctors and nurses, grocery store workers, and the U.S. taxpayers whose tax dollars funded the life-saving vaccines and treatments.
This blog is the first in a series that will look at pharma’s true contribution to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. In a public health crisis like COVID-19, the government is right to use taxpayer money to protect its citizens and bring an end to the virus. But if taxpayers invest extraordinary amounts to invent drugs, our investment must be accounted for when the time comes to set a price.