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Moderna coronavirus vaccine lobbying during the pandemic

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  • The biotech Moderna increased its lobbying spending seven-fold as it races to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
  • Moderna spent $70,000 on lobbying in Washington in the second quarter of this year, up from $10,000 over the same period last year.
  • Business Insider combed through lobbying records companies working on coronavirus vaccines and treatments, including AstraZeneca, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi. 
  • Some other drugmakers also boosted their lobbying spending, while others spent less this quarter. 
  • For more stories like this, sign up here for our healthcare newsletter, Dispensed.

Moderna, the small biotech whose coronavirus shot was first to get tested in people, is boosting its lobbying as the race to create a vaccine accelerates.

The biotech spent a total of $70,000 in the second quarter of 2020, up from $10,000 in the same period of 2019. Moderna hired Avenue Solutions for $20,000 to lobby on “education around potential COVID-19 vaccines and related issues” during the second quarter. It also paid W Strategies $50,000, a fivefold increase from what it paid the firm in the second quarter of 2019.

More than 150 coronavirus vaccine-research programs are underway, but only a handful have been publicly picked by the US to get extra help and funding as part of the federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed.” Warp Speed aims to have 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine ready by January 2021.

The tiny biotech Novavax has won the biggest amount of funding from the US. It recently received $1.6 billion to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine by early 2021. It spent $60,000 lobbying in the second quarter, an increase of $50,000 over the same three months of last year. To help with lobbying the Trump administration, Novavax brought on the firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, records show

Moderna, for its part, received a $483 million grant from the US for vaccine work. Other companies reportedly selected by the government to participate in Warp Speed include Merck, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, but the US hasn’t published a full list.

Major pharma companies spent far more on lobbying than either Moderna or Novavax, and they worked on a broader range of issues.

Here’s how much other pharma and biotech firms that are working on coronavirus spent on lobbying in the second quarter, according to disclosure records we reviewed. The review included both in-house lobbying and the multiple outside firms that lobby on their behalf: 

  • Pfizer spent $3.5 million. The total represented a drop when compared to the same period last year. 
  • Merck boosted spending this quarter to almost $3.2 million, including $2.6 million on its in-house lobbying operations.
  • Johnson & Johnson spent $2.4 million, including almost $1.8 million in-house. 
  • GlaxoSmithKline spent almost $1.3 million.
  • Emergent Bio spent nearly $1.3 million, a small jump from the same period in 2019. 
  • Sanofi spent more than $1.2 million, including $860,000 in house. 
  • AstraZeneca spent $1 million, a decrease of about $500,000.
  • Regeneron spent $440,000, an increase of about $40,000.

These pharmaceutical companies lobbied on issues such as drug pricing and trade policies, the disclosures show. All of them disclosed that some of their lobbying was related to the coronavirus.

One of Moderna’s lobby firms, W Strategies, also worked on behalf of other pharmaceutical companies who have vaccine candidates, including AstraZeneca, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi. W Strategies was founded by Darren Willcox, who was a health policy aide to former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. 

Moderna has never had a vaccine or drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but is a frontrunner in the effort to create a coronavirus shot. A recent study showed its experimental coronavirus vaccine generated immune responses that could protect people from the virus. Now, it’s gearing up to begin a trial on July 27 with 30,000 people that will help to determine whether the vaccine can prevent people from getting sick. 

Moderna didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on its lobbying.

Read more: The first look at human data from the coronavirus-vaccine front-runners is in. Here’s how Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca stack up as they race to have their shots ready this fall.

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