Rumsfeld and Scoundrel Time with the Pharmaceuticals
Panic over avian flu has already resulted in a U.S. government stockpile of $2 billion worth of Tamiflu, and Bush is seeking a $7.5 appropriation for more. Who benefits?
While the Administration faces accusations that it overhyped post-9/11 threats to national security, the media have been slow to stitch together a similar pattern in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's connection with the pharmaceutical industry, a connection that built his personal fortune on a series of panics stretching back to the mid 1970's.
Most recently, the panic over avian flu has been fanned almost universally by news outlets, despite expert caution that the virus itself has yet to mutate into any form transmittible between humans or between birds and humans.
Nonetheless, the Government has stockpiled two billion dollars worth of Tamiflu. This drug was developed a decade back by Gilead, of which Rumsfeld was the CEO, the company then transferring all marketing and sale rights to the Roche Company.
Earlier, the current Secretary of Defense successfully marketed aspartame, a suspected carcinogen, as "Nutrasweet," on which he earned some ten million. Before that, he exploited scare tactics on the swine flu, to the extent that President Ford ordered massive inoculations in 1976. When fifty people died from the drug, its administration was suspended, but not before Mr. Rumsfeld pocketed an estimated five million.
The avian flu scare is being handled similarly to the infamous "Swine Flu Affair" during the Ford Administration. Who benefited then?
Much of the swine flu story and its dubious provenance has been documented by a Johns Hopkins medical professor, Arthur Silverstein, in his book Pure Politics and Impure Science, subtitled The Swine Flu Affair (JHU Press,1984). His account emphasizes how President Ford's desire to win election on his own rendered him susceptible to pressure from the pharmaceuticals to inoculate all Americans, 220 million people, against the Swine flu despite only one clearly documented fatality.
It became a $135 million program which had reached 40 million before the accumulation of fatalities and a linkage to several cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome or paralysis saw suspension of the vaccine. The pharmaceutical companies had pre-arranged for the government to assume any liabilities.
Aspartame had such a mixed record in various lab tests that the FDA refused approval several times. However, with the election of Ronald Reagan, Arthur Hayes Hull, Sr., a friend of Rumsfeld, became a commissioner on the FDA. Another crony appointment secured the votes necessary for approval. Today a $330 million class action lawsuit under RICO provisions mentions Rumsfeld as the CEO of G.D. Searle Company in 1977.
The current scare, commented NBC News' chief science and health correspondent Robert Bazell just this past February, closely resembles the 1970's scare, except this time around the price tag in Bush's request for funding is $7.1 billion.
©2006 Stuart Markoff. The author is a Baltimore-based free lance with an interest in immunology after he developed diabetes II. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This story was published on May 8, 2006.