Bono Joins Ebola Lobbying as U.S. Loosens Purse Strings

Zimek Technologies thinks it has just the thing to help the U.S. fight Ebola: an automated disinfecting system that can clean a hospital room in 45 minutes.

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To make sure the federal government doesn’t overlook it, Orlando, Florida-based Zimek in August hired lobbying firm Dentons U.S. LLP to talk up its equipment to Congress and officials at the Defense Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Zimek paid Dentons about $20,000 in the third quarter, according to a filing by the lobbying firm.

“They don’t want to see another nurse or other innocent citizens be contaminated, whether it be Ebola or any other deadly pathogen, by virtue of not using proper decontamination technology to help,” Joe Mantilla, the Dentons lobbyist representing the company, said in a phone interview.

Drugmakers, hospitals, firms like Zimek and advocacy groups including U2 singer Bono’s ONE campaign are among at least 15 organizations that reported lobbying activity on Ebola during the third quarter, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Senate. With thousands of soldiers and aid workers deployed to West Africa, as well as domestic cases in Dallas, Congress has provided $88 million for drug research and the CDC and allowed the Pentagon to shift $750 million from its war budget to the Ebola mission.

“From my point of view, there’s no money for Ebola in August, and then all of a sudden there’s a billion,” David Kilian, a lobbyist with Innovative Federal Strategies, said in a phone interview. “People are moving, here.”

Compassionate Use

Kilian’s firm represents Cerus Corp. (CERS), a Concord, California-based company whose technology kills pathogens in blood products meant for transfusion — such as plasma that Ebola survivors donate to sick people in the hope that their antibodies may help fight off the virus.

Cerus filed an application with the Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 20 seeking “compassionate use” approval for its technology in the U.S., Chief Executive Officer William “Obi” Greenman, said in a phone interview. He pays Kilian’s firm to look for opportunities for research funding for his company.

“To the extent they can help things move more quickly in the government, that’s basically why we have a lobbyist,” Greenman said. Cerus paid Innovative Federal about $20,000 in the third quarter, according to its disclosure.

The lobbyists worked on a defense spending bill and on the use of Cerus’s technology to respond to Ebola and another exotic disease, chikungunya.

Interested Companies

Other companies lobbying on Ebola, according to disclosures, include: BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. (BCRX), a Durham, North Carolina, drugmaker; Anchorage, Alaska-based Alaska Structures Inc., which builds temporary shelter and medical facilities; Welch Allyn Inc., a medical diagnostic equipment maker based in Skaneateles Falls, New York; and Sarepta Therapeutics Inc. (SRPT), a drugmaker based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lobbyists for BioCryst and Sarepta didn’t return phone messages. A spokesman for Welch Allyn’s lobbying firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, declined to make anyone available for an interview. Alaska Structures Inc.’s executive vice president for government programs, Gerrit Boyle, declined to comment.

Not all lobbyists are in search of money for their clients. Marc Scheessele, director of government relations for St. Louis University, said he filed a disclosure listing Ebola as a lobbying subject after he offered the school’s faculty as experts to members of Congress from Missouri.

Bono’s ONE

“There was a lot of misinformation out there at the beginning about how it gets spread,” he said in a phone interview.

Two hospital systems, Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health and Renton, Washington-based Providence Health & Services, filed disclosures listing Ebola lobbying, as did the Greater New York Hospital Association. Lobbyists for Sanford and the hospital association didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Joel Gilbertson, a senior vice president at Providence who directs its lobbying, said in a phone interview the hospital system added Ebola to its disclosure form after telling members of Congress about a project that sent about $100,000 worth of surplus protective equipment to West African health workers. Providence hasn’t sought money for any Ebola work, he said.

Bono’s group, the ONE campaign, is funded by private donations and doesn’t seek taxpayer money, said Tom Hart, the group’s U.S. executive director. Instead, it wants to make sure the U.S. and other donor nations pour as much money as possible into health care and aid workers.

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