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U.S. army poised to give Sanofi exclusive license to vaccine patents with no price restrictions

Written by Alex Lawson

The U.S. Army has developed two patents for a Zika vaccine. Now, the Army is poised to give Sanofi, a large vaccine maker, an exclusive license to these vaccine patents with no price restrictions. If the government grants Sanofi this monopoly pricing power, the cost of the Zika vaccine could threaten the public health, along with state and federal budgets.

According to Stat News, Sanofi has refused to promise to price the vaccine for Americans affordably or at the same level as what other countries pay. Yet, U.S. taxpayers have already invested tens of millions of dollars for the pre-clinical research, and the U.S. is currently doing the phase I trials. Moreover, the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority already has granted Sanofi $43 million for phase II trials and an option for another $130 million for phase III trials.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, and others have taken this issue on. They want the Army to grant Sanofi a non-exclusive license to allow for price competition for the Zika vaccine. Alternatively, they propose that the government actively require reasonable pricing of the vaccine.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus could spread across the U.S. And, millions of Americans may need it to prevent birth defects. With monopoly pricing power, Sanofi could charge so much for the vaccine that the cost eats up a large portion of federal and state budgets, keeps people from getting the vaccine, and threatens the public health.

The Army’s initial proposal to license the vaccine to Sanofi exclusively was announced in the federal register in December 2016. Many organizations sent in comments objecting. Still, last month, the Army affirmed its plans to grant Sanofi an exclusive license to its patents in a letter to Knowledge Ecology International, one of the advocacy groups that objected to the exclusive licensing for the vaccine.

Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International argues that under federal law the Army is required to ensure that Sanofi, the exclusive licensee to produce the drug, makes the drug “available to the public on reasonable terms.”

The open question is why the federal government does not exercise its power to bring the Zika vaccine to market at a fair price, especially when the need for the vaccine is so pressing and the public health threat so great if the drug is unaffordable.

If you want Congress to rein in drug prices, please sign this petition.

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