Merkley, Braun Announce Bipartisan Legislation to Track Taxpayer-Funded Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine Research

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is teaming up with U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) to announce the Taxpayer Research and Coronavirus Knowledge (TRACK) Act—legislation that would create a public database to show where taxpayer dollars dedicated to coronavirus treatment and vaccine research are going. Currently, this information is scattered, difficult to access, and incomplete, making it difficult to track how decisions are getting made, whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth, or any fraud or corruption that is plaguing the haphazard distribution of billions of dollars.

To date, Congress has provided nearly $8 billion for research and development of coronavirus treatments and vaccines. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have also invested at least $700 million on coronavirus research, in addition to federal support for existing drugs—like Gilead’s treatment remdesivir and drug company Moderna’s vaccine candidate—that are being explored for use responding to the new coronavirus. The senators’ announcement comes on the heels of a deal between the U.S. government and Moderna, under which the government will spend $1.5 billion to purchase 100 million doses of the company’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, on top of taxpayers’ 100% financing of Moderna’s vaccine.

“The administration is handing out billions of taxpayer dollars without any kind of open or transparent process,” said Merkley. “The least we can do is make sure there’s transparency after the fact so we know who is getting our money and what we are getting for it.  Everyone wants breakthrough COVID treatments and vaccines as soon as possible, but we don’t need to put up with sweetheart deals, cronyism, fraud, or corruption to get it.  A database will provide transparency and accountability so we all can all see what we get for these taxpayer investments.”

“With the billions of dollars that Congress has now spent on research and development for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, increased transparency into how this money is being used is needed now more than ever.  This legislation ensures transparency into the vital aspects of the research, along with oversight and record keeping requirements for taxpayer funded research and development that have been ignored for far too long, which is a win for all Americans,” said Braun.

The database would be publicly available on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, and would include:

  • The agency, program, institute, or other federal government entity providing the federal support;
  • Recipients, amounts, timeline, and itemized expenditure breakdown, including prior and ongoing funding commitments for research, development, and manufacturing;
  • Non-financial support, including use of government facilities, equipment, and personnel;
  • Associated clinical trial data, upon trial completion;
  • Associated patents and patent applications, including any federal ownership, expiration date of patents and filing dates of patent application, and the number of patents and applications;
  • Associated tax benefits under the R&D and orphan drug credits, as well as tax benefits for donated samples to patient assistance programs;
  • The name, price, and current and anticipated manufacturing capacity to produce a drug (including biological products), cell or gene therapy, or medical device intended to be manufactured, used, designed, developed, modified, repurposed, licensed, or procured to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat, or cure COVID–19 that receives federal support; and
  • Full terms of the contract, funding agreement, licensing arrangement, transaction, or other arrangement made between the federal government and a manufacturer.

Merkley has kept a steady drumbeat on the need for transparency in publicly funded research and for safeguards to ensure that coronavirus treatments and vaccines are affordable for all when they become available. Last week, Merkley continued his leadership in tackling pharmaceutical companies’ greed by joining forces with U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) to introduce the Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price-Gouging Act.

The TRACK Act is endorsed by AARP, Public Citizen, Patients for Affordable Drugs, Health Care Voter, Families USA, Niskanen Center, Indivisible, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Center for Medicare Advocacy, United Auto Workers, American Federation of Teachers, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Alliance for Retired Americans, Project on Government Oversight, MomsRising, Oxfam, Lower Drug Prices Now, Communication Workers of America, Consumer Action, Young Invincibles, Good Jobs First, Americans for Tax Fairness, Social Security Works, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), Hero Action Fund, Treatment Action Group, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, American Medical Student Association, People’s Action, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Consumers’ Checkbook, CASA in Action, Hispanic Federation, American Muslim Health Professionals, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (U.S. Provinces), Public Advocacy for Kids, Communities United, Coalition on Human Needs, ACT UP Philadelphia, Equality North Carolina, and Right to Health: Pandemic Prevention Project.

The full text of the legislation is available here.

A one page summary of the bill can be accessed here.