Americas, Coronavirus, Top Stories

Foreign nations forced to lobby for COVID-19 drug as US hoards supply

The US decision to buy up the world supply of a COVID-19 drug has forced foreign countries to work their connections to the Donald Trump administration if they want a piece of the pie.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced on June 29 that it was purchasing the entire July production of remdesivir from US drugmaker Gilead Sciences. The drug, developed with US taxpayer funding, is currently the only therapeutic approved by both the United States and the European Union for COVID-19.

The US agreed to pay top dollar for the drug as it struggles to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak anywhere. Critics however argue that the distribution of COVID-19 drugs should be based on public health priorities rather than national origin.

Now evidence is emerging that another group could get a leg up: Foreign nations with the right lobbyists.

Newly disclosed emails under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) show that the Dominican Republic got a direct line to a top official at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thanks to its lobby firm, Ballard Partners. The firm is run by Brian Ballard, a former lobbyist for Trump in Florida.

“I am reaching out to see if there is any way we can get WH clearance for 9 [remdesivir] treatments from Gilead Sciences for the DR,” Eduardo Hernandez Inchaustegui, chief of the commercial section at the Dominican consulate in New York, wrote to Ballard Friday afternoon. “We have an urgent need for these and Gilead is requesting WH approval for Gilead to provide these through diplomatic channels to the DR Presidential Palace.”

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The email chain shows Ballard followed up three and a half hours later with an email to Anand Shah, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs. Copied on the email was Adam Boehler, the CEO of the newly created US International Development Finance Corporation.

“Dear Dr Shah, I appreciate very much your offer of assistance regarding the matter I have attached to this email,” Ballard wrote. “We have had the privilege of representing the Dominican Republic for several years and have been very pleased with the pro-American policies of the government. I hope you might advise on the best way forward to assist on this critical matter.”

Neither Ballard nor Shah responded to requests for comment. The consulate’s Hernandez declined to elaborate on the status of his request.

“The DR Gov’s Lobbying firm was transparent in its filing with FARA,” he said in an email. “I have no further comment on the matter at this time.”