A few short months ago, Emergent Biosolutions was riding high. Their stock was at $125/share. They were a $7 billion dollar company. They were the epitome of how to turn failure into success:
- never bringing a product they created to market
- selling almost exclusively to the government;
- selling single-source products, which meant no-bid contracts;
- making products that were mostly stockpiled, with a short expiration period, so they had to continuously re-supply the buyer;
- selling products that were stockpiled but never used, the quality of the stockpiled products could be very low;
- asking the government for bailouts, and getting them, when manufacturing problems were identified;
- even when thousands of soldiers were sickened by their anthrax and smallpox vaccines, the Defense Department covered up for the company;
- most of their products were intended for pandemics or bioterrorism, and were thus “covered countermeasures”–which meant they fell under a government PREP Act near-total liability shield;
- because the only way liability could be assigned to the company was by proving “willful misconduct,” i.e., knowing of a product’s faults but selling it anyway, the company was incentivized not to properly test its products. By avoiding proper testing, the company could not be accused of knowing about their products’ flaws;
- Emergent BioSolutions practically cornered the market on insider, crony deals–which is saying quite a lot when you are talking about the pharmaceutical industry
Naturally this company flubbed its Covid vaccine manufacturing. The company’s M.O. is to screw up the manufacuring of a single-source, necessary product, then cry poor and get the government to bail them out.
Now Congress is paying attention. The CEO Robert Kramer and Board Chairman/majority owner Fuad el Hibri have been asked to pony up documents and appear for questioning on May 19. Hopefully Congress will review the prior investigation of this company, performed by the GAO and Government Reform Committee in 1999-2000. There is quite a lot of history, and Fuad el-Hibri and Robert Kramer have been involved with numerous questionable deals since the company was formed in 1998. Hopefully the Congress will also look into the acquisition of Narcan nasal spray (an opioid antidote) by Emergent, and the massive increase in Narcan purchases by public agencies after EBS acquired the product.
Here is today’s MSNBC article talking about this latest twist in the saga of Emergent BioSolutions, the cardboard “powerhouse” that has contracts to produce nine different medical products in response to the Covid pandemic. Nine products that might be injected into any of us.