Drug tycoon in £50,000 Labour link
BRIAN BRADY WESTMINSTER EDITOR
THE boss of Britain's biggest vaccines company made a £50,000
donation to Labour two months after winning a £17m NHS contract,
Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Dr Paul Drayson, chief executive of bio-science business Powderject,
handed over his donation after winning a deal to provide all the UK's
anti-TB jabs at a price four times that of the previous contract.
The cash - from a family fortune estimated at over £100m - was
donated shortly after Blair's election victory last June.
Drayson, 41, has made a string of statements in recent months
praising the Prime Minister and his government, including a defence
of Blair's refusal to reveal whether his baby son Leo had had the
controversial MMR vaccination.
Details of the financial backing from a Labour `cheerleader' whose
firm competes for lucrative government contracts last night
intensified the row over the party's links with big business.
Downing Street is already trying to limit the damage from last
weekend's revelation that Blair endorsed a Caribbean-based company's
bid to take over the Romanian steel industry after its owner donated
£125,000 to party funds.
A spokesman for Powderject last night confirmed that Drayson was a
Labour party member who had given the money as an individual donor.
The spokesman insisted it was "completely unrelated" to Powderject's
dealings with the government.
The spokesman said Drayson met politicians, including ministers, "all
the time" in his capacity as boss of both Powderject and his trade
organisation, the BioIndustry Association.
But shadow health secretary Liam Fox, who complained about the cost
of the BCG deal when it was announced, challenged the government to
lay bare full details of its contacts with Drayson.
He said: "Any suggestion that the NHS is being overcharged for
vaccines would naturally be a cause for concern at any time.
"Given recent events, in particular the scandal surrounding Labour
donors, it clearly becomes a cause for heightened public anxiety. The
questions raised must be dealt with speedily and transparently."
Multimillionaire Drayson has made a string of statements in recent
months praising the Prime Minister and his government - although he
has never revealed the extent of his support for the Labour party.
He was the foremost of six senior industrial scientists who wrote to
the Financial Times newspaper endorsing the government's record in
the crucial run-in to the last election.
Last month Drayson condemned critics who complained about the Prime
Minister's refusal to say whether his baby son Leo had had the MMR
vaccination, in the face of fears that it could cause autism.
"The way the issue came up regarding the Prime Minister was very
unfair," said Drayson, whose firm does not produce the triple
vaccine. "There is a limit. It is a matter of personal choice whether
you talk about your family."
Powderject, the sixth largest vaccine company in the world, also
produces the leading flu vaccine, Fluvirin, vaccines against yellow
fever and tetanus, and the Diamorphine pain-killer.
Drayson also congratulated the Department of Health on its
vaccination programme during the flu epidemic last winter. Blair
named Powderject's needle-free vaccination technology as
a `Millennium product' under a prestigious awards scheme designed to
showcase British initiatives at the start of the new century.
The Powderject spokesman added: "Paul is a well-known supporter of
the Labour Party. He is very open about that. He is a member, he was
also quoted in the manifesto, but all of that is in a personal
The decision last March to award Powderject the £8.5m a year contract
over two years to provide the BCG jabs against TB provoked furious
complaints that the government had not got value for money.
Ministers had been forced to halt the BCG schools immunisation
programme in 1999 after their supplier, Medeva, ran into production
Powderject later took over the Merseyside-based company, renaming it
Evans Vaccines. The Department of Health then negotiated the new BCG
contract with Powderject, but at a price more than four times the
original £2m a year.
The Powderject spokesman said last night: "We are the only licensed
supplier of the TB vaccine in the UK. We won that contract in an open
manner and we announced it."
Powderject is now believed to be helping the government strengthen
Britain's defences against bio-terrorism in the aftermath of the
attacks on September 11. Evans Vaccines has restarted production of a
smallpox vaccine and stepped up output of an anthrax vaccine it
already supplies to the Ministry of Defence.
Drayson began his business career at Rover, then moved to an offshoot
of the sweets company Trebor, which he later sold at a large profit
after leading a management buy-out . He co-founded Powderject to sell
a needle-free injection system, but the company's main focus is now
the vaccines business.
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