Bruce E. Ivins, the government biodefense scientist linked to the deadly anthrax mailings of 2001, stood to gain financially from the huge federal spending in the fear-filled aftermath of those killings, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
Ivins is listed as a co-inventor on two patents for a genetically engineered anthrax vaccine, federal records show. Separately, Ivins is also listed as a co-inventor on an application to patent an additive for various biodefense vaccines.
Ivins, 62, died Tuesday, apparently in a suicide. Federal authorities had informed his lawyer that criminal charges related to the mailings would be filed.
As a co-inventor of a new anthrax vaccine, Ivins was among those in line to collect patent royalties if the product had come to market, according to an executive familiar with the matter.
The product had languished on laboratory shelves until the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax mailings, after which federal officials raced to stockpile vaccines and antidotes against potential biological terrorism.
A San Francisco-area biotechnology company, VaxGen, won a federal contract worth $877.5 million to provide batches of the new vaccine. The contract was the first awarded under legislation promoted by President Bush, called Project BioShield.
One executive who was familiar with the matter said that, as a condition of its purchasing the vaccine from the U.S. Army, VaxGen had agreed to share sales-related proceeds with the inventors.
"Some proportion would have been shared with the inventors," said the executive, who spoke anonymously because of contractual confidentiality.
"Ivins would have stood to make tens of thousands of dollars, but not millions."
Two years after the contract was awarded, the pact was terminated when VaxGen could not deliver its batches on schedule.
Ivins was also listed as one of two inventors of another biodefense-related product that has won federal sponsorship.
According to their still-pending application for a U.S. patent, the inventors hoped the additive would bolster certain vaccines' capacity to prevent infections "from bioterrorism agents."
From December 2002 to December 2003, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency committed $12 million for more testing of the experimental additive. That research money was designated for Coley Pharmaceutical Group, which was developing the additive. The company was acquired last fall by Pfizer Corp.
Samuel C. Miller, a Georgetown Law Center professor who is a patent-law expert, said the extent to which Ivins stood to gain from the two issued patents or the one that remains pending hinged on the terms of the related contracts.
The Times sought this year to obtain annual financial-disclosure statements filed by Ivins with his employer, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.
A USAMRIID spokeswoman, Caree Vander Linden, said last month that Ivins had filed financial reports that were exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Ivins' death and the Justice Department's decision to bring criminal charges against him were first reported Thursday night by the Times. Yesterday, Ivins' lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, defended his client and said that Ivins had cooperated fully with the FBI.
Friends and critics alike pondered the mystery within the mystery: If Ivins did it, why?
One former senior USAMRIID official whom the FBI questioned at length about Ivins said he believed his former colleague wanted more attention - and resources - shifted to biological defense.
"It had to have been a motive," said the former official, who suspects that Ivins was the culprit. "I don't think he ever intended to kill anybody. He just wanted to prove, 'Look, this is possible.' He probably had no clue that it would aerosolize through those envelopes and kill those postal workers."
Of the five people killed by the mailings, two worked for the U.S. Postal Service in the Washington, D.C., area; one was a photo editor in Palm Beach County, Fla.; another was a hospital supply provider in New York City; the last known victim was 94-year-old woman in Connecticut.
David Willman writes for the Los Angeles Times.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun