[guest post by Dana]
It would not be surprising in the least to see Dr. Trump once again latching onto an unproven cure for Covid-19:
To the alarm of some government health officials, President Trump has expressed enthusiasm for the Food and Drug Administration to permit an extract from the oleander plant to be marketed as a dietary supplement or, alternatively, approved as a drug to cure COVID-19, despite lack of proof that it works.
…The experimental botanical extract, oleandrin, was promoted to Trump during an Oval Office meeting in July.
It’s part of a pattern in which entrepreneurs, often without rigorous vetting, push unproven products to Trump — knowing their sales pitches might catch his eye. Trump will then urge FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to “look at” or speed up approval.
Here’s where this gets even more troubling:
It’s embraced by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell, a big Trump backer, who recently took a financial stake in the company that develops the product.
Lindell told Axios that in the meeting, Trump “basically said: …’The FDA should be approving it.'”
MyPillow CEO Lindell, who is a major advertiser on Fox News and a personal friend of Carson and Trump, helped Whitney get an Oval Office meeting with the president in July to discuss oleandrin as a potential COVID-19 cure…
Lindell said that he, Carson, at least one lawyer and, briefly, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, joined Trump and Whitney for the meeting. Notably absent was Hahn, the head of the agency that studies and approves medical treatments.
Asked why the HUD secretary was promoting an unproven botanical extract to cure COVID-19, a Carson spokesperson emailed the following statement to Axios: “Secretary Carson is a member of the Coronavirus Task Force, he has been directly involved with the Administration’s response to this disease from the very beginning.”
Jim Geraghty reminds us that Ben Carson’s connection to companies marketing health supplements has been problematic in the past. This is Carson in 2016 promoting a medical-supplement maker accused of false advertising:
The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel. And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food. You know we live in a society that is very sophisticated, and sometimes we’re not able to achieve the original diet. And we have to alter our diet to fit our lifestyle. Many of the natural things are not included in our diet. Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.
Here is more detail:
Carson’s interactions with Mannatech, a nutritional-supplement company based in suburban Dallas, date back to 2004, when he was a speaker at the company’s annual conferences, MannaFest and MannaQuest. He also spoke at Mannatech conferences in 2011 and 2013, and spoke about “glyconutrients” in a PBS special as recently as last year.
Mannatech has a long, checkered past, stretching back to its founding more than a decade before Carson began touting the company’s supplements. It was started by businessman Samuel L. Caster in late 1993, mere “months,” the Wall Street Journal later noted, before Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which greatly loosened restrictions on how supplement makers could market their products. Within a few years of its inception, the company was marketing a wide variety of “glyconutrient” products using many of the same tactics previously described in lawsuits against Eagle Shield, Caster’s first company.
Concerns about this new alleged “cure” for Covid-19 are manifold – including a lack of public data confirming that oleandrin has been tested in humans, specifically regarding to Covid-19:
Senior administration officials familiar with the internal conversations around oleandrin have raised concerns about the way this botanical extract — pushed by Andrew Whitney of Phoenix Biotechnology — is being promoted at the highest levels of the Trump administration.
There is no public data showing oleandrin has ever been tested in animals or humans for its efficacy against COVID-19, but the extract has shown some evidence of inhibiting the virus in a non-peer reviewed laboratory study.
In an interview on Saturday, Whitney told Axios that oleandrin has been tested on humans for its efficacy against COVID-19 but said the study has not been published yet. He also said the lab study is in the process of being peer reviewed.The first path is as a COVID-19 drug, which would involve a rigorous process that includes clinical trials.
But to hedge his bets, Whitney said he is also pushing the FDA to allow oleandrin to be sold off the shelf as a dietary supplement — a move that could be made immediately, Whitney has told administration officials.
Whitney has claimed to administration officials that oleandrin cures COVID-19 in two days, according to a source familiar with his private comments.
But if the FDA allows oleandrin to be sold as a dietary supplement, the company would not be allowed to make medical claims about its ability to treat or cure COVID-19.
Asked about this claim about oleandrin being a “cure” for COVID-19, Whitney said he stands by it “100%.”
Whitney says that he has provided the White House with evidence to support his claims and that the FDA is “dragging its feet” about approval:
“The process is too slow. … We ought to be given an opportunity to test this. Call my bluff!”
UPDATE: Reporters asked Trump about the unproven coronavirus therapeutic today at the White House South Lawn. It sounded like he was testing the waters:
Trump confirmed he’s “heard about” oleandrin when asked Monday on the White House South Lawn, but still seemed to be in an information-gathering phase.
“Is it something people are talking about very strongly?” he asked the reporter.
“We’ll look at it, we’ll look at it, we’re looking at a lot of different things. I will say the FDA has been great. They are very close. We’re very close to a vaccine. Very close to a therapeutic. I have heard that name mentioned, we’ll find out,” the President said.