Daines proposes $10 billion to pay for early manufacture of coronavirus drugs

The federal government could soon be paying for the early manufacturing of potential coronavirus drugs while those drugs are still being researched, under a $10 billion proposal by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines.

The proposal, which received mention on the Sunday news program “Face The Nation” and in the Wall Street Journal, would have the federal government paying for early drug manufacturing so that drugs tested for effectiveness treating coronavirus would be immediately available once determined to work by Food and Drug Administration.

Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug administration, listed the proposal as something Congress needs to do in order to scale up the manufacturing of promising drugs before approval is granted. Gottlieb was FDA commissioner during the first two years of the Trump presidency. He wrote about the Daines proposal in the Wall Street Journal and spoke about it later on “Face The Nation.”

“That means producing millions of doses while trials are under way,” Gottlieb wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Daines, a Montana Republican, “has suggested adding a provision to this effect to one of the relief bills in Congress. We may have to be ready to distribute a drug on a massive scale as soon as it proves safe and effective.”

Drug companies are reluctant to produce drugs on a massive scale ahead of FDA approval, because of the financial loss of producing a something that has to be thrown out, said Daines spokesperson Katie Schoettler. Funding for early drug manufacturing is included in the $1.6 trillion economic stimulus bill being negotiated in Congress.

Which drugs the federal government paid to mass produce ahead of FDA approval would be left up the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a press release, Daines said he spent the days leading up the stimulus vote discussing the plan with FDA and National Institutes of Health officials.

“This funding and accelerating manufacturing drugs to treat and prevent coronavirus will help save lives and our economy,” Daines said in a press release. “Getting these drugs to the American people before the next flu season versus after is critical. This could literally help prevent another pandemic. And this funding and plan will help make that a reality.”

Daines is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Appropriations Committee, both which play key roles in determining what amendments are added to the stimulus bill. His past professional history includes 13 years working for Proctor and Gamble in China during the 1980s and 1990s.

Daines is seeking reelection this year. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit government watchdog, ranks Daines 18th among all congressional recipients of campaign donations associated with the pharmaceutical and health products industry and 10th among Senators. Relevant donations to Daines in the 2020 election cycle totaled $127,943. Sen. Bernie Sanders was first with $467,636 for his presidential run.

For comparison, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, ranked ninth among all congressional recipients of donations associated with the pharmaceutical and health products industry in 2018, with $256,728. Reelected in 2018, Tester ranked fourth among Senate recipients.

Also, Saturday Sen. Jon Tester signed onto an effort to boost funding for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Specifically, the senators asked that $132 million be added for coronavirus treatment an additional $150 million be added for prevention and vaccine development. The request includes an additional $156 million to infrastructure and preparedness, including the expansion of Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Hamilton.

“We need to do everything we can to keep Montana families safe, and I will continue fighting to give folks at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health all the tools in the toolbox to boost their critical work researching treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus,” Tester said in an emailed statement.