Experts question PharmAthene's government contract extension

In a move touted as by many experts as questionable at best, PharmAthene has seen millions of dollars added to a 2003 contract without competing for it.

PharmAthene, which held closes ties to the late Congressman John Murtha and current DHS Under Secretary Tara O'Toole, was originally awarded the contract by BARDA. This new influx of money is part of a 2008 HHS request for a proposal for a second-generation anthrax vaccine.

The HHS's request for proposal, as issued, was to be a re-procurement for a canceled 2006 contract.

As a result of the modification of this existing contract, PharmAthene will receive as much as $78.4 million in additional funding if certain milestones are achieved and all contract options and extensions are exercised by the government.

The contract extension concerns SparVax, the company's second generation recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccine.

"We are pleased to be awarded additional development funding for our SparVax anthrax vaccine program, which may offer a promising improved alternative to existing anthrax vaccine options," David P. Wright, president and CEO of PharmAthene, said. "There is widespread acknowledgment among various government agencies that the United States must develop and stockpile a second generation anthrax vaccine employing modern vaccine technology that offers the potential for improved safety, convenience and enhanced cost effectiveness. New and improved anthrax vaccines, based on modern state-of-the-art recombinant vaccine technology, incorporate significant product development and technological advancements and ultimately may provide meaningful health and economic advantages."

Big government watchers, however, are not pleased with the sole-source contract extension, noting that it nearly doubled PharmAthene's stock.

More troubling, PharmAthene is closely linked to Murtha and O'Toole. The Washington Times noted at the time of O'Toole's nomination that "President Obama’s nominee at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing bioterrorism defense has served as a key adviser for a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that has asked the government to spend more money for anthrax vaccines and biodefense research."

O'Toole, one an advisor to the Alliance for Biosecurity, which many people believe to be run by PharmAthene, was then placed in a position to steer business to PharmAthene at the expense of taxpayers, with many calling this latest contract an example of such.

In addition to the newest issuing of millions of dollars to aid in develop SparVax, PharmAthene has submitted a White Paper seeking further development funding for SparVax in response to a Broad Agency Announcement.

"We believe that, if awarded, funding provided under the BAA, along with the additional funding announced today, could be sufficient to advance SparVax to a stage where it will be eligible for consideration for a Project BioShield procurement contract," Wright said.