Scientist Bruce Ivins-who committed suicide last week after after the Feds told his lawyer he would be charged in connection with the 2001 anthrax mail killings-stood to make a profit off the panic caused by the attacks thanks to vaccine patents he held. "Ivins is listed as a co-inventor on two patents for a genetically engineered anthrax vaccine, federal records show. Separately, Ivins also is listed as a co-inventor on an application to patent an additive for various biodefense vaccines."
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 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."
One former senior official with Ivins' employer, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, 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; and the last known victim was a 94-year-old woman in Connecticut.
Several letters were addressed to prominent people — two U.S. senators and NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, for example.
For nearly 30 years, Ivins served far from the limelight, a PhD microbiologist who drew a civil servant's pay while handling some of the most deadly pathogens on Earth — live spores of anthrax. [LAT]