Trump and his associates have a ‘small financial interest’ in drug he is backing as a coronavirus treatment through fund that invests in maker of hydroxychloroquine, claims report
- Hydroxychloroquine has been touted by Trump as a treatment for coronavirus
- President has pushed anti-malaria drug at White House virus press briefings
- New York Times reports that Trump has a financial stake in French drug-maker
- However the company makes many other drugs and there is no suggestion that the President or his associates are motivated by personal gain
- It is not even clear if the president would be aware of that his investments are linked to Sanofi
- Scientists say more testing needed before it’s proven safe to use for COVID-19
President Trump has a small financial interest in a pharmaceutical company that makes an anti-malaria drug he has been pushing as a coronavirus miracle cure, the New York Times reports.
The paper claims that President’s family investment funds have investments with a mutual fund whose largest holding is in Sanofi – a corporation that makes the brand name version of hydroxychloroquine.
However the company makes many other drugs and there is no suggestion that the President or his associates are motivated by personal gain in their hopes that hydroxychloroquine will provide an effective treatment for coronavirus.
It is not even clear if the president would be aware of that his investments are linked to Sanofi.
The decades-old drug, hydroxychloroquine, has been touted by Trump and his team as being an effective treatment for the disease, that has killed more than 75,000 worldwide since December.
He has kept up the administration’s out-sized promotion on Monday of the drug not yet officially approved for fighting the virus, even though scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19.
In a matter of weeks it has become a standard of care in areas of the United States hit hard by the pandemic – even though doctors prescribing it have no idea whether it works.
President Trump, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, speaking to the media about the COVID-19 pandemic the White House in Washington DC on Monday
Hydroxychloroquine pills (above). President Trump and his administration kept up their promotion of the malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus
If the anti-malaria medication, first approved for medical use in 1955, is widely used around the globe to combat coronavirus, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit.
This includes shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president as well as Trump himself, according to the New York Times.
He has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drug-maker that makes Plaquenil.
The sudden, unexpected surge in demand for the drugs to treat coronavirus is coming at a cost to the many patients who take them regularly to treat the debilitating symptoms of autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Within hours of Trump’s initial endorsement on March 19, pharmaceutical supply chain experts reported shortages as doctors began prescribing hydroxychloroquine for themselves and their families.
Drug-makers are ramping up production of hydroxychloroquine to deal with the rising demand, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
Some associates of Trump reportedly have financial interests in Sanofi. One of its largest shareholders includes Fisher Asset Management, the mutual fund company run by major Republican donor Ken Fisher.
Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge and Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi.
Invesco – a fund previously run by commerce secretary Wilbur Ross – is another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani visiting the USNS Comfort after it pulled into a berth in Manhattan last week to help treat coronavirus patients
Ross told the Times in a statement on Monday that he ‘was not aware that Invesco has any investments in companies producing’ the drug, ‘nor do I have any involvement in the decision to explore this as a treatment’.
In an interview on Monday, former New York mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, denied any financial stake and said he spoke with Trump only after the president had already promoted the drug publicly.
Giuliani said he turned to researching coronavirus treatments after investigating former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine – a move that led to the president’s impeachment hearings culminating in his acquittal in January.
Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, has also championed hydroxychloroquine in television interviews a day after the president publicly put his faith in the medication to lessen the toll of the pandemic.
Trump said Sunday: ‘What do I know, I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense.’ In promoting the drug’s possibilities, the president has often stated, ‘What have you got to lose?’
Trump held out promise for the drug as he grasps for ways to sound hopeful in the face of a mounting death toll and with the worst weeks yet to come for the US.
The virus has killed more than 10,000 in the US, and measures meant to contain its spread have taken a painful economic toll and all but frozen life in large swaths of the country.
But medical officials warn that it’s dangerous to be hawking unproven remedies, and even Trump’s own experts have cautioned against it.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listening as President Trump speaks about the coronavirus at a briefing on Monday
A bottle of hydroxychloroquine in Oakland, Californin on Monday. Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro championed hydroxychloroquine in television interviews a day after the president publicly put his faith in the medication to lessen the toll of the coronavirus pandemic
The American Medical Association’s president, Dr Patrice Harris, said she personally would not prescribe the drug for a coronavirus patient, saying the risks of severe side effects were ‘great and too significant to downplay’ without large studies showing the drug is safe and effective for such use.
Harris pointed to the drug’s high risk of causing heart rhythm problems.
‘People have their health to lose,’ she said. ‘Your heart could stop.’
In a heated Situation Room meeting of the White House’s coronavirus task force Saturday, Navarro challenged the top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, over his concerns about recommending the drug based only on unscientific anecdotal evidence.
Navarro, who has no formal medical training, erupted at Fauci, raising his voice and claiming the reports of studies he had collected were enough to recommend the drug widely, according to a person familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the blow-up.
Fauci has repeatedly said current studies provide only anecdotal findings that the drug works. In response, Navarro told CNN on Monday, ‘I would have two words for you: ‘second opinion.’
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro speaks during an interview at the White House on Monday
Hydroxychloroquine is officially approved for treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, not COVID-19. Small, preliminary studies have suggested it might help prevent the new coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. But those have shown mixed results.
Doctors are already prescribing the malaria drug to patients with COVID-19, a practice known as off-label prescribing.
Research studies are now beginning to test if the drugs truly help COVID-19 patients, and the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the medication into the national stockpile as an option for doctors to consider for patients who cannot get into one of the studies.
But the drug has major potential side effects, especially for the heart, and Fauci has said more testing is needed before it’s clear that the drug works against the virus and is safe for such use.
Navarro told Fox News Channel’s ‘Fox & Friends’ that doctors in New York hospitals are already distributing the drug to COVID-19 patients and that health care workers are taking it in hopes of being protected from infection.
Asked about his credentials for pushing the drug, Navarro cited his doctorate in social science and said that ‘in the fog of war, we might take more risks than we otherwise would.’ He added, ‘I’d bet on President Trump’s intuition on this one.’
Administration officials say Trump’s embrace of the drug stems from his desire to provide ‘hope’ for the American people as the death toll mounts and he looks to avoid political consequences from the outbreak.
President Trump listening to a question from a reporter as a coronavirus press conference at the White House on Monday
Some limited studies have been conducted on the use of hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin in concert to treat COVID-19, but they have not included critical control groups that scientists use to validate the conclusions.
Researchers in China, for instance, reported that cough, pneumonia and fever seemed to improve sooner among 31 patients given hydroxychloroquine compared with 31 others who did not get the drug, but fewer people in the comparison group had cough or fevers to start with.
Many questions have been raised about another study in France. Some of the 26 people given hydroxychloroquine in that test were not counted in the final results, including three who worsened and were sent to intensive care, one who died a day after later testing negative for the virus and one who stopped treatment because of nausea.
The French study was published in an International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy journal. The society’s president wrote on its website that the report ‘does not meet the society’s expected standard.’
At least one other world leader has also promoted the drugs. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, saying he’s heard reports of 100 per cent effectiveness when administered in the correct dosages.
Trump’s interest in the drug was piqued in part by coverage on conservative media.
On March 16, Fox News ran a segment on a small French study promoting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating the coronavirus.
Hours later, attorney Gregory Rigano appeared on a prime-time show and said evidence suggested it could rid the body ‘completely’ of the virus.
Almost instantly, just as the projections of the virus’ impact on the nation grew more dire, the drug’s promise bounced around the echo chamber of the conservative media. Just three days later, Trump himself made the first mention of the drug.
Among the loudest voices in the president’s ear has been Giuliani, who has spoken to Trump about the drug and advocated it in interviews and his new podcast.
Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaking about the coronavirus at the White House on Monday
He has had, as guests, several experts touting the drug and made a few late-night phone calls to the White House residence.
‘I discussed it with the president after he talked about it,’ Giuliani said. ‘I told him what I had on the drugs. Others around him believe it too.’
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, on Friday tweeted a link to an article about the drugs’ possible success and added: ‘Waiting for others to write this up. The Democrats and the media must be really upset because they tried to destroy @realdonaldtrump for being hopeful that this would be the case.’
Across Europe, there has also been a recent spike in demand for the drugs even as regulators caution against their unlicensed use.
Last week, the European Medicines Agency warned doctors that since there is no proof yet of the drugs’ effectiveness, they should be used only in clinical trials or under emergency use provisions.
The jump in demand for the drugs has meant in some instances that patients who rely on hydroxychloroquine for lupus or other conditions are seeing their supplies diverted for COVID-19.
If hydroxychloroquine is proven to work well against COVID-19, its sales would jump, but pharmaceutical analysts say they don’t know of any company or individual that stands to make a windfall.
That’s because there’s so much competition and the vast majority of prescriptions filled are for generics.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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