Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BAD PUBLICITY CAUSES SPLIT IN BIOTERROR DEFENSE LOBBY

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity, formerly headed by Dept. of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science & Technology Tara O'Toole, has split itself off from a special interest lobby/industry group to which it had been joined at the hip for most of the war on terror -- the Alliance for Biosecurity.

"I am writing to let you know that the Center for Biosecurity at UPMC has resigned its membership in the Alliance for Biosecurity," wrote Thomas Inglesby, its director here.

The announcement, dated November 20 of last year, came sixteen days after O'Toole was confirmed for her position at DHS.

"O'Toole has also been under fire for not reporting that she was an adviser for the Alliance for Biosecurity, a group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that conducts lobbying efforts on drug development and research. The Homeland Security Department said no disclosure was necessary because the alliance is not an incorporated group," noted Congressional Quarterly that month.

The split had been kept unusually quiet -- there is no notice of it in Lexis, the last mention of it being the CQ article on O'Toole's confirmation -- until today when a link pointing to it was mailed to Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist by a member of the Center for Biosecurity/Graham-Talent agency biodefense lobby/special interest group.

And the full text of the letter was only posted to the UPMC website on January 14.

Upon reading it becomes clear why the divorce happened. Bad publicity and the impression of cozy dealing in the small part of the biodefense industry represented by the Center for Biosecurity and the Alliance for Biosecurity was taking a toll.

This remarkably took place in the context of O'Toole's sailing through a Congressional hearing/confirmation process which chose to ignore all information presented to it on the matter.

"Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday evening applauded the confirmation of Tara O'Toole to be Undersecretary of the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)," reads a Lieberman press release from some months ago.

"Dr. O'Toole is assuming her role at a critical time, as the H1N1 flu pandemic is spreading across the nation at an alarming rate," Lieberman said. "She has impressive educational and professional credentials and has earned bipartisan respect across the government and scientific communities. Dr. O'Toole brings a remarkable breadth of experience to this job that is so crucial to our nation's security. She is an inspired choice and I congratulate her on her confirmation."

Although most of the mainstream press had and has expressed no real interest in the linkage between the Alliance for Biosecurity and the Center for Biosecurity and its lobbying on the need for always increasing bioterror defense spending before Congress and in the news, a couple did, as well as blogs like Armchair Generalist and this one.

"The Alliance has established itself as a substantive credible stakeholder working in the nation's best interests on complex and challenging biosecurity policy and technical issues," continued Inglesby.

"Unfortunately, there was an effort to undermine these contributions in the last few months."

Undermining, in this case, meaning shedding light on the business of the UPMC Center for Biosecurity/Alliance for Biosecurity.


Screen snapshot of the Center for Biosecurity's homepage was taken from a cached page on December 11, at a time when the organization's divorce from the Alliance was still undercover.

For example, just earlier this month, Michael Goldfarb, in a short article for the Weekly Standard on Alliance for Biosecurity firm PharmAthene, wrote this:

"Several months ago we warned that Tara O'Toole who recently became Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security would reward her friends resulting in millions of dollars in gifts to John Murtha cronies who supported her nomination.

"And it now appears the Murtha/O'Toole favor factory has begun production. In February 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a second-generation Anthrax vaccine. This RFP was issued to be a re-procurement for a contract that had been canceled in 2006 for the same vaccine. And on December 7, HHS canceled the RFP.

"After further review, it is becoming all too clear why this happened. Just as the year was closing and no one was paying attention, O'Toole's friends at PharmAthene were awarded a sole-source contract, which has resulted in their stock nearly doubling. In the very same week America faced al Qaeda's latest terrorist attack, it seems that the O'Toole-led homeland security "system worked" for PharmAthene -- assuming the system is one of cronyism, political paybacks, and sole-source contracts.

"This leads one to ask, who is PharmAthene, what are O'Toole's ties, and why would the government single them out for a sole source giveaway at taxpayer expense?"


The rest of that article is here.

And in September of last year, the Washington Times published what was probably the most damaging article on Tara O'Toole and the Alliance for Biosecurity.

"President Obama's nominee at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing bioterrorism defense [Tara O'Toole] 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," wrote the newspaper.

"But Dr. Tara O'Toole, whose confirmation as undersecretary of science and technology is pending, never reported her involvement with the lobbying group called the Alliance for Biosecurity in a recent government ethics filing.

"The alliance has spent more than $500,000 lobbying Congress and federal agencies -- including Homeland Security -- since 2005, congressional records show."

That article is here.

"During the course of Tara O'Toole's nomination process, a number of false statements were made about Tara, the Alliance for Biosecurity and the Center for Biosecurity," wrote Inglesby in the UPMC paper of divorce. "As you all know, the Center for Biosecurity has never received any funding from any Alliance Company, from the Alliance for Biosecurity itself or from the [lawyer house] of the Alliance, Drinker, Biddle and Reath."

However, the Weekly Standard post -- for example, is not about the Center for Biosecurity receiving funding from the Alliance. It is entitled, instead, "Murtha-tied Company Wins Sole-Source Vaccine Contract" and it is, ostensibly, a piece on influence-peddling.

"Given the Alliance's many significant contributions to US biosecurity and the important work that remains, I would hope that the Center for Biosecurity might in the future be invited to collaborate with the Alliance on specific technical projects ..." Inglesby writes.

Significant contributions overstates matters by a large bit.

In December, DD blog posted this on the blog:

The Alliance is the UPMC Center for Biosecurity and a collection of companies which, for the most part, have been remarkably unsuccessful at bringing anything to market, although they are touted as using all the newest molecular genetic and biochemical technologies for vaccine and drug manufacturing.

One member -- DOR Biopharma -- has been laboring on a ricin vaccine since around the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. It recently changed its name to Soligenix, perhaps to make it easier to attract potential investors.

Siga Technologies, Inc., another Alliance for Biosecurity firm, recently announced it had received a rather small amount of money -- $1.6 million from the National Institutes of Health -- to look into something it calls Human Bioarmor, a kind of silver bullet for bioterror agents. These funds were announced as having been part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Another firm, Nanoviricides, Inc., has nothing in the market but three nanomolecular 'Cides -- FluCide, HIVCide and RabiCide -- in development, with none beyond animal safety testing.

And the Alliance's intriguing named Unither Virology, is said by business publications on the web to have an annual operating budget of $100,000 and a staff of one.


Additionally, two Alliance companies -- PharmAthene and Siga -- are locked in a legal battle which certainly must constitute a significant contribution to the nation's biosecurity. Notice of it is here.

Still another Alliance company, Emergent, has been trying to raid another business for its anthrax development operation and government contracts.

Emergent is the maker of BioThrax, the anthrax vaccine worked on by Bruce Ivins. The vaccine's troubled history and slow embrace by the US government prior to 9/11 was theorized by the FBI to perhaps have been one of Ivins' reasons for spreading anthrax in the mail in an incident which terrorized the nation and galvanized quick approval of the formulation.

"In an order signed on Sept. 18, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington, Judge Brendan Linehan Shannon granted the request of the Meriden, Conn.-based biopharmaceutical company [Protein Sciences} to dismiss the involuntary bankruptcy case that was filed against it by three of its creditors," reported The Daily Deal on September 21.

"The bankruptcy took us away from our mission, which is to save lives," said Dan Adams, CEO of Protein Sciences, to the Deal. "Adams has expressed confidence that the case would be dismissed since the creditor group filed the involuntary Chapter 7 petition on June 22."

"Protein Sciences on July 13 filed a response with the Delaware court, asserting that the bankruptcy filing was done in bad faith, and solely as a tool for Emergent Manufacturing to acquire its assets ... On May 27, 2008, Emergent's parent, Emergent BioSolutions Inc., announced that it had agreed to acquire Protein Sciences in a deal worth $78 million. However, according to Adams, the deal was halted because of shareholder opposition. 'Instead of making another offer, [Emergent] came back and shot us,' Adams said."

Of one regularly looks close, the Alliance's real contributions to the nation's biosecurity can often be difficult to make out.




Armchair Generalist was sent the formal notice of divorce between the Center for Biosecurity and Alliance for the same yesterday. And he was kind enough to share it with DD blog, a very courteous and informative thing to do.

Today, Jason Sigger writes of the affair:

"I believe that this is a good thing for the Center. If it wants to be viewed as a non-partisan and unbiased research center, then it needs to stay independent of industry concerns. It may be, as the Center's letter claims, that the Alliance has made 'strong analytical argument[s]' for the purpose of improving US biodefense initiatives, but let's not kid ourselves. At the end of the day, it benefited them as well as the overall biodefense readiness. And that's okay - lobbyists are supposed to provide analytical arguments on complex policy issues with the understanding that positive legislative action could benefit their clients. Lobbyists don't just show up with a bag of money and a big smile and say, 'hey Congressman, how about some love?' (okay, maybe some of them do...)"

The rest of that post is here. Along with a subtle video about lobbying.




On the Alliance for Biosecurity, Tara O'Toole, the Graham-Talent commission and the biodefense special interest lobby -- from the archives.

This post has been updated.

3 Comments:

Blogger Bill German said...

I am still bullish on PIP. The WH connection is positive

11:35 AM  
Blogger Bill German said...

PIP up 18% heavy vol jan 27

1:03 PM  
Blogger George Smith said...

You should probably let 'em know PIP is PharmAthene. At I think that's what you mean.

With the bioterror scare stories in WaPo all this week, it's perfect.

4:46 PM  

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