Emails raise questions about Siga smallpox deal

A series of emails between Department of Health and Human Services officials expressed concern at the projected profit from a government contract for a drug company with ties to a Democratic party activist.
In May, HHS awarded Siga Technologies a no-bid contract worth approximately $433 million to develop and produce 1.7 million doses of STS-246, an anti-viral smallpox drug. Ronald Perelman, a longtime Democratic party activist and fundraiser, is the controlling shareholder of Siga. Andy Stern, a supporter of President Obama's health care initiatives, is on Siga's board of directors, CNN reports.
One internal HHS email said that Siga's return on investment from the contract was "an overwhelming 180 percent," and later added, "I know you won't find a CO (contracting officer) in government who would sign a 3-digit profit percentage," according to CNN.
Fran Townsend, a Siga board member, defended the contract process, insisting that it followed standard operating procedures. He also said that the claim that the return on investment was 180 percent was not accurate.
"I can tell you not Ronald Perelman, not Andy Stern, no member of the (Siga) board was involved in these contract negotiations and never contacted anybody in the government about this contract," Townsend said, according to CNN.
The fact that the contract was a no-bid award has also raised questions.
"Was it justified as a no-bid contract?" Sen. Claire McCaskill asked, CNN reports. "Overall, I think we need to begin asking policy questions about the kind of money we're spending developing drugs where the United States is the only customer."
The contract award has also raised concerns in some sections of the scientific community. D.A. Henderson, a smallpox expert from the University of Pittsburgh's Bio Security Center, said that STS-246 has yet to be proven effective.
"The question is, what will it do in the way of treating a patient who's had a fever and now has a funny rash that could be smallpox?" Henderson said, according to CNN. "Will it treat the disease? I've seen no data to suggest that it will."
An advisory committee for the Food and Drug Administration will hold a public hearing on the drug on Wednesday.