Donald J. Trump told the American people during his presidential campaign, “This country is being drained of its jobs and its money because we have stupid people making bad deals.” He promised to make better deals, ones in which we would win so much we “may even get tired of winning.”
Now his administration, through the Army, is on the brink of making a bad deal, giving a French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, the exclusive license to patents and thus a monopoly to sell a vaccine against the Zika virus. If Mr. Trump allows this deal, Sanofi will be able to charge whatever astronomical price it wants for its vaccine. Millions of people in the United States and around the world will not be able to afford it even though American taxpayers have already spent more than $1 billion on Zika research and prevention efforts, including millions to develop this vaccine.
The Department of Health and Human Services gave Sanofi $43 million to develop the Zika vaccine with the United States Army. And the company is expected to receive at least $130 million more in federal funding.
Sanofi is not a nonprofit or a tiny start-up struggling to bring medicine to market. Its chief executive, Olivier Brandicourt, earns about $4.5 million a year. Even the government of France criticized this salary, calling it “incomprehensible,” yet the American government is perfectly happy to enrich Mr. Brandicourt even more.
Before President Trump makes this deal, he must guarantee that Sanofi will not turn around and gouge American consumers, Medicare and Medicaid or our military when it sells the vaccine.
Unfortunately, the likelihood is that Sanofi will engage in exactly this predatory behavior — because it’s happened before.
Here is one recent example: The critical prostate cancer drug Xtandi was developed at U.C.L.A. with taxpayer-backed research grants and support from the Army and the National Institutes of Health. The patents, which were assigned to U.C.L.A. by the United States government, were transferred ultimately to a pharmaceutical company that is charging Americans $129,000 a year. Across the border in Canada, the same drug costs just $30,000 because, unlike the United States, Canada regulates drug prices.
Under this insane system, Americans pay twice. First we pay to create these lifesaving drugs, then we pay high prices to buy those drugs. And at the same time, we subsidize consumers in the rest of the world, including in advanced nations, by financing the research behind the medications they buy.
A Zika vaccine would be a tremendous scientific advancement and could prevent birth defects, including severe congenital brain damage, in countless children around the world. American soldiers serving in Zika-prone areas need it.
American consumers should not be forced to pay the highest price in the world for a vaccine we paid to help develop.
A failure by the government to demand fair prices from Sanofi in exchange for giving the company a monopoly would be only one more example of the broader insanity around American drug prices. A decision by the Army on Sanofi’s application is expected later this year.
Our government must stop being pushovers for the pharmaceutical industry and its 1,400 lobbyists. We must not hand this gift to a French drug company without making it pledge not to overcharge American consumers.
Will the president negotiate a better deal for the taxpayers of this country and our soldiers? Or was the president lying when he claimed he would make only the best deals on behalf of the American people?
We will soon find out.