Anthrax scientist Bruce Ivins stood to benefit from a panic
By David Willman
Los Angeles Times
August 2, 2008
DOORSTEP: Police in Frederick, Md., talk with Bruce Ivins' widow,
Diane. A former colleague says that he suspects Ivins was the
anthrax culprit, but that he wouldn't have meant to kill anyone.
The suspect in deadly mailings, who killed himself this week as the
FBI closed in, could have collected patent royalties on an anthrax
Bruce E. Ivins, the government biodefense scientist linked to the
deadly anthrax mailings of 2001, stood to gain financially from
massive 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
also is listed as a co-inventor on an application to patent an
additive for various biodefense vaccines.
Ivins, 62, died Tuesday in an apparent suicide in Maryland. 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
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."
Two years after the contract was awarded to VaxGen, the pact was
terminated when the company could not deliver its batches on
schedule. The termination meant that VaxGen was not paid, nor were
Ivins and his co-inventors.
Ivins also was 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 additional
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 that the extent to which Ivins stood to gain from
the two issued patents or the one that remains pending hinges on the
terms of the related contracts.
"It will depend on the business arrangements that are in place,"
On Friday, colleagues and critics of Ivins pondered the mystery
within the mystery: If Ivins did it, why?
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
"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
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.
The deadly mailings of anthrax-tainted envelopes transported Ivins
from the backwater of government scientific research at Ft. Detrick,
Md., to the center of the nation's fledgling war on terrorism. It
also spurred multibillion-dollar national security initiatives.
Ivins was thrust into the federal investigation of the mailings as
well. He helped the FBI analyze anthrax recovered from a letter
addressed to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
He also played a lead role in helping a private company, BioPort,
win regulatory approval to continue making the vaccine required for
U.S. service personnel deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other
From 2000 to early 2002, Ivins and two colleagues from USAMRIID
helped BioPort resolve problems related to the potency of the
vaccine. Because of those and other manufacturing difficulties,
production had been suspended. The efforts of Ivins and his
colleagues helped BioPort win FDA approval to resume production.
At a Pentagon ceremony on March 14, 2003, Ivins and two colleagues
from USAMRIID were bestowed the Decoration of Exceptional Civilian
Service, the highest honor given to nonmilitary employees of the
"Awards are nice," Ivins said in accepting the honor. "But the real
satisfaction is knowing the vaccine is back on line."
The Times sought earlier this year to obtain annual financial
disclosure statements filed by Ivins with his employer. USAMRIID
spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said last month that Ivins had filed
financial reports exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of
Ivins' apparent suicide and the Justice Department's decision to
bring criminal charges against him were first reported Thursday
night by The Times<http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-
na-anthrax1-2008aug01%2C0%2C2864223.story>. On Friday, Ivins'
lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, defended his client and said that Ivins had
cooperated fully with the FBI.
"We assert his innocence in these killings, and would have
established that at trial," Kemp said, implicitly confirming that
Ivins had been about to be formally charged. "The relentless
pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways
on different people. . . . In Dr. Ivins' case, it led to his
Kemp did not respond to telephone calls and e-mails for this article.
david.willman @ latimes.com
Times researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW
Need some good karma? Appreciate the service?
Please consider donating to WVNS today.
To leave this list, send an email to: