An obscure South Carolina company may be in line for millions of dollars in U.S. government funding to produce atreatment after a former Republican senator with a financial stake in the business lobbied senior U.S. government officials, the Associated Press reports.
Plasma Technologies LLC, has received seed money to test a possible COVID-19-fighting blood plasma technology. But as much as $65 million more could be on the way, a windfall for the company that operates out of the founder’s luxury condo, according to internal government records and other documents obtained by the Associated Press.
The story of how a tiny business that exists only on paper has managed to snare so much top-level attention is emblematic of theto the coronavirus pandemic.
And it’s another in a series of contracts awarded despite concerns over their proposals voiced by government scientists. The others include a $21 million study of the heartburn drug Pepcid as a COVID therapy, and more than $500 million to ApiJect Systems America, a startup with an unapproved medicine injection technology and no factory to manufacture the devices. In addition, a government whistleblower claimed that a $1.6 billion vaccine contract to Novavax Inc. was made over objections of government scientific staff.
At the center of these deals is, a senior Trump appointee at the Department of the Health and Human Services, who backed the Pepcid, Novavax and ApiJect projects. Records obtained by the AP also describe Kadlec as a key supporter of Plasma Tech, owned by Eugene Zurlo, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and well connected Republican donor. Three years ago, Zurlo brought Rick Santorum, who spent 12 years as a GOP senator from Pennsylvania, aboard as a part-owner.
Kadlec has come under pressure from the White House to act with more urgency and not be bound by lower-level science officials whom Trump has castigated as the “deep state” and accused of politically motivated delays in fielding COVID-19 vaccines and remedies.
The AP reached out to more than a dozen blood plasma industry leaders and medical experts. Few had heard of Zurlo’s company or its technology for turning human plasma into protein-rich antibody therapies, and would not comment.
Zurlo said in an email that the shortage of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, which is needed to make these therapies, underlines the need for the technology he’s patented to harvest as many of these proteins as possible.
Rick Santorum steps up sales pitch
In early April, shortly after Congress supplied hundreds of billions of dollars to combat the pandemic, Santorum stepped up his sales pitch for Plasma Technologies and the process the company has described as “disruptive and transformative,” according to the records.
In mid-August, the federal government awarded Plasma Technologies a $750,000 grant to demonstrate that it could deliver on its promises.
HHS would not comment when asked whether Santorum’s public backing of the president helped the company he has