Bernie Sanders lashed out at a drug company for potentially profiting from Zika

Senator Bernie Sanders isn’t happy about a potential deal between President Donald Trump and major pharmaceutical company.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Sanders said the Trump administration is “on the brink of making a bad deal” that would give French drugmaker Sanofi the exclusive licence to patents for a Zika vaccine.

Sanofi has been working on a vaccine for Zika since February 2016, and has received $US43 million in government funding to get the drug through development.

Instead of what’s in place now, Sanders wants Sanofi to promise it won’t charge super high prices for its vaccines.

“American consumers should not be forced to pay the highest price in the world for a vaccine we paid to help develop,” Sanders wrote. He pointed to Xtandi, a cancer drug that he has criticised in the past, as an example of a drug that was developed in part with government funding that now has a list price of $US129,000 per year.

“Under this insane system, Americans pay twice,” he wrote.

The Zika virus, which is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes, has been spreading around the world since 2015. Once infected, only about 20% of people ever show symptoms, which most commonly include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. There is no approved vaccine available, even though the disease has been around since 1947.

Zika is most troubling because of its link to birth defects, including microcephaly — a condition in which a child is born with an abnormally small head — in infants whose mothers have had Zika. The virus has also been linked to a neurological condition called Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome.

Why developing a vaccine for Zika is difficult

Sanofi’s vaccine is still a long way from getting approved in the US, and there’s no guarantee the vaccine could work.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Zika, how it spreads, and where it might be a problem by the time a vaccine is developed. For example, all the areas hit since 2015 may not need the vaccine. The disease could change into another strain that the vaccine doesn’t necessarily hit.

“We’re assuming substantial financial and opportunity risks because there is no clear path to commercialization at this time, as the epidemiology of this infectious disease is still a moving target,” a Sanofi spokeswoman said in a statement emailed to Business Insider.

Sanofi has developed vaccines for other infectious diseases in the past, most recently getting approval for a vaccine for dengue, another mosquito-borne infection that sickens as many as 400 million people a year. It took Sanofi 20 years to get a dengue vaccine, and it cost Sanofi $US1.5 billion. The vaccine isn’t approved in the US, but in the Phillipines it costs roughly $US22.

Whether a vaccine for Zika will be profitable remains to be seen. But Sanders has made his stance on the issue clear.

“We must not hand this gift to a French drug company without making it pledge not to overcharge American consumers,” Sanders wrote.

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