A pharmaceutical firm with a dark history and questionable ties to serving ASPR Robert Kadlec is poised to become the exclusive manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccines now being funded through Trump’s Operation Warp Speed.
Trump’s much-ballyhooed “Operation Warp Speed” unveiled in May of this year to produce and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. is shaping up to be yet another scheme to funnel millions of dollars into a singularly corrupt pharmaceutical entity with deep ties to Robert Kadlec, the serving Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), who is in charge of the Strategic National Stockpile and is the architect of the legislative edifice which currently governs the nation’s public-private partnership (PPP) approach to health emergencies.
The task force’s latest and largest grant was awarded to Maryland-based Novavax, Inc. to cover late-stage testing and manufacturing of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Only the sixth company to receive federal funds from Trump’s program, the $1.6 billion infusion is intended to result in the production of 100 million doses by the start of 2021, according to Novavax CEO, Stanley Erck.
The other companies favored by Operation Warp Speed include AstraZeneca, which received $1.2 billion last May to develop its AZD1222 vaccine; ModernaTX, Inc. who was awarded nearly $550 million; Merck and IAVI with the relatively paltry sum of $38 million; Sanofi’s Protein Sciences got a little over $30 million and finally, Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, Janssen Research & Development, LLC obtained $456 million back in February for its Ad26-based vaccine technology platform, which will ostensibly “maximize the probability of a successful vaccine and rapid deployment within the US and globally.”
Of these, the three largest award recipients have direct partnerships to manufacture their vaccines with one company. Emergent Biosolutions, who was awarded a $628 million dollar contract by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to provide “manufacturing support” for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines across the U.S., has entered into agreements with Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca to provide contract development and manufacturing (CDMO) services.
A March article in the Washington Business Journal characterizes Emergent Biosolutions’ contract with Novavax as hitting the pharmaceutical company’s “sweet spot of teaming up with the federal government to address public health threats, with major contracts to fuel the national stockpile […].” Indeed, Emergent’s track record with the federal government goes back decades, but it is anything but encouraging. Originally BioPort, Emergent Biosolutions was formed in the late 90’s for the sole purpose of acquiring the only anthrax vaccine manufacturing plant in the United States, which was then owned by the state of Michigan.
The events that subsequently transpired after the acquisition would reveal a scandalous pattern of cronyism, incompetence and outright criminality as the company siphoned off millions of dollars in federal contracts that went unfulfilled, to the point that the Pentagon was on the verge of rescinding the relationship and revoking their exclusive license for the production of the anthrax vaccine in August, 2001.
After the infamous anthrax “attacks” later that month, their license was reinstated for good and one of the most high-profile suspects surrounding Amerithrax, Jerome Hauer, would join their board of directors where remains to this day.
Serious questions surrounding Emergent Biosolutions’ history and links to Kadlec have surfaced as a result of this author’s collaborative investigation with Whitney Webb and subsequent investigations by the Washington Post and at least two letters from Congressional leaders inquiring about Kadlec’s failure to reveal his conflict of interests with Emergent Biosolutions and his dubious actions in his capacity of ASPR in relation to recent unilateral changes to BARDA policies.
So far, Kadlec has not publicly responded to questions regarding his ties to Emergent Biosolutions founder Fuad El-Hibri, with whom he co-founded East West Protections, a company that has provided biodefense services to countries around the world. Nor have issues raised by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., been addressed about the removal of former BARDA director Rick Bright and a subsequent “wholesale shift in strategy” at the agency tasked with procurement of medical materiel, drugs, and vaccines for the Strategic National Stockpile.
Among the most telling questions posed by Pascrell, Jr., and Menendez in their letter to Kadlec and acting BARDA director, Gary L. Disbrow revolves around BARDA’s role in Operation Warp Speed and whether or not any funding has been diverted from BARDA to that program.
The monies being disbursed by Operation Warp Speed shows clear signs of some sort of tacit agreement between Kadlec’s old friends at Emergent Biosolutions and the presumably independent “Manhattan Project-style” COVID-19 vaccine development program headed by the former head of research and development for the world’s largest vaccine company and a military general with expertise in logistics.
The story of how Emergent Biosolutions obtained and maintained a U.S. monopoly on the anthrax vaccine has been covered in detail in the Engineering Contagion series. It is a tale of corruption at the highest levels of both the public and private sectors, which exposes the vested interests of a shadowy cabal of global pharmaceutical firms and their agents in government who have been working in concert for decades to establish a mandated global market for vaccines and other drugs.
Kadlec’s central role in the execution of this scheme is only now beginning to be examined and the near-total grip of Emergent Biosolutions over the flow of federal dollars in relation to these biotech initiatives has been completely ignored by the media. One notable exception might be the financial press, which has been stealthily offering positive investment tips about Emergent, calling it an “under-the-radar stock,” which has “become the go-to manufacturing partner for companies looking to develop vaccines for the coronavirus.”
The Money Trail
As usual, following the money usually takes us to the center of the real action. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, Emergent’s “go-to” status is borne out by this tried and true method, and when we survey the agreements already in place with the companies most likely to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The value of Johnson & Johnson’s contract with Emergent Biosolutions, for instance, matches up almost exactly with the $456 million grant it received from the Trump administration; Emergent’s five-year manufacturing agreement with the American multinational is worth approximately $480 million.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, which also received considerable funding from Operation Warp Speed, likewise reached an $87 million agreement with Emergent Biosolutions to manufacture its vaccine doses for the U.S. market. The contract also includes contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) services to manufacture the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm’s goal of more than “2 billion doses per year by 2021.”
Together with the Novavax contract, which has been in place since March, Emergent Biosolutions has positioned itself as the only known vaccine manufacturer for three of the six companies in the running to be approved for one. Only Moderna has an agreement with a different manufacturer, while the remaining vaccine candidates are being developed by companies with their own manufacturing capabilities.
Novavax says that it is “in the process of transferring its vaccine technology to an unnamed contract manufacturer that has two large manufacturing facilities” to meet its goal of producing 50 million doses a month in the United States and that Emergent is only tasked with helping with the manufacturing of smaller late-stage testing doses.
Emergent Biosolutions, however, has a total of five manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and a $628 million-dollar contract with the federal government to scale production of the successful vaccine candidate to the tune of “tens to hundreds of millions of doses.” Given the sordid history of incompetence and corruption of the company once called BioPort, it would not be surprising if Novavax would prefer to keep the full extent of that partnership secret.
Feature photo | From left, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services Robert Kadlec, President Donald Trump, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Vice President Mike Pence watch. Evan Vucci | AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.