Peter Thiel funding herpes vaccine test outside of US safety rules

Peter Thiel funding herpes vaccine test outside of US safety rules
© Getty Images

Prominent tech investor Peter Thiel is putting money into offshore testing of an experimental herpes vaccine that circumvents U.S. safety rules on human trials.

Thiel, who has advised President Trump, is part of a group investing $7 million into the research, according to Kaiser Health News.

ADVERTISEMENT

Researchers conducted tests of the vaccines on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts without oversight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other U.S. regulators. Participants in the study were mostly Americans with herpes who were flown to the island.

“What they’re doing is patently unethical,” Jonathan Zenilman, chief of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Division, told Kaiser Health News. “There’s a reason why researchers rely on these protections. People can die.”

Investors who put money into the company with Thiel say the study challenges what they see as onerous regulations at the FDA. Robert Califf, a former FDA commissioner, called the tests “wrong” but told Kaiser that they were still legal.

Thiel has been critical of the FDA’s policies. He has said in an interview that “you would not be able to invent the polio vaccine today,” because of government regulations.

Researchers at the group, Rational Vaccines, defended their safety protocols, saying that participants had little risk of being harmed since they already had herpes.

Critics of Rational Vaccines’s test also hammered Southern Illinois University (SIU), which released a press release touting the offshore study in February and characterizing the FDA as excessively slow and inefficient.

"With oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the process to bring a vaccine to market in the United States may take 20 years or longer,” SIU wrote in the release. “Research scientists have a common term for the waiting game that occurs as the review process drags on, capital funding dries up and uncertainty and costs mount: ‘The Valley of Death.' "

SIU is a patent holder of the vaccine, but it told Kaiser it doesn’t have any legal liabilities because it was not involved in Rational Vaccines test.

“SIU School of Medicine did not have any involvement in Rational Vaccines’s clinical trial,” SIU spokeswoman Karen Carlson told Kaiser. “But we are confident that as the chief scientific officer of Rational Vaccines, Dr. Halford followed safety protocols appropriate to the clinical trial.”