25 April 2002 | David Arminas
Pharmaceutical companies are demanding answers from the government over its handling of the controversial smallpox vaccine contract.
They are baffled by the way the £32 million contract was awarded to a company headed a Labour Party donor.
The government claimed that Cambridge-based PowderJect was chosen because it was able to produce the type of vaccine needed to counter a possible terrorist threat.
A spokesperson for rival firm Acambis, which unsuccessfully tendered for the contract, said the secrecy of the UK process contrasted with the US where the company recently won a smallpox vaccine contract worth more than £500 million.
She told SM: "We thought we were taking part in a structured process, but everyone was surprised when the contract was awarded out of the blue."
The Department of Health said it could not comment on the contract "for obvious national security reasons".
Another vaccine manufacturer said: "It wasn't clear that a tender process was even being carried out.
"This is typical of the UK government and its lack of transparency. This would not have happened in the US."