Trump pushing unproven plant extract as coronavirus “cure” after meeting with MyPillow CEO: report

Trump's new coronavirus miracle cure comes from a plant that can cause "serious illness and possibly death"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 17, 2020 7:59PM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Mike Lindell (L), founder of My Pillow, during a Made in America event with US manufacturers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Mike Lindell (L), founder of My Pillow, during a Made in America event with US manufacturers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump wants the Food and Drug Administration to approve an unproven plant extract as a coronavirus "cure," MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell told Axios after an Oval Office meeting.

Trump has embraced the experimental plant extract oleandrin, which comes from the oleander plant, to "the alarm of some government health officials" after it drew support for Lindell and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, according to the report.

The plant itself is considered highly toxic and "ingestion of any part of the oleander plant can lead to serious illness and possibly death," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Lindell, a longtime Trump supporter who has a financial stake in a company that manufactures the product, told the outlet that the president "basically said" that the "[Food and Drug Administration] should be approving it."

Trump confirmed on Monday that he has "heard about" oleandrin.

"We'll look at it. We'll look at it, we're looking at a lot of different things," he said. "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."

A senior administration official expressed concerns over the discussions.

"The involvement of the secretary of HUD and in pushing a dubious product at the highest levels should give Americans no comfort at night about their health and safety during a raging pandemic," the official told Axios.

Lindell told the outlet that he has been taking oleandrin, which he has shared with family and friends. He claimed to believe that it prevented him from getting the coronavirus. He also dismissed the alarm sparked by his lobbying from inside the administration.

"I think it's being suppressed," he said. "Because somebody doesn't want this out there, because it works."

The reported lobbying effort by Lindell, a top Fox News advertiser, follows a similar one over hydroxychloroquine. Fox News host Laura Ingraham and several of the network's pundits met with Trump at the White House, where they pushed for the president to press the FDA to issue an emergency authorization for the anti-malarial drug before multiple studies showed it was not effective in treating the coronavirus and could case harmful side effects. Trump pressed the FDA to authorize the drug, which it did in March, before pulling the authorization in June following extensive research.

Oleandrin showed some evidence of reducing the severity of coronavirus symptoms in a non-peer-reviewed study but "there is no public data showing oleandrin has ever been tested in animals or humans for its efficacy against COVID-19," Axios reported.

Andrew Whitney, an executive at the biotech company Phoenix Biotechnology, told the outlet that the study was in the process of being peer reviewed. Lindell helped Whitney set up an Oval Office meeting with Trump in July to discuss the extract as a potential coronavirus "cure," according to the report.

Carson, another booster of the unproven extract, also attended the meeting.

"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," a spokesperson told Axios. "The task force is looking at a plethora of therapeutics to fight COVID-19. To suggest that Secretary Carson, who is a world-renowned expert in the medical field, shouldn't be involved is not only absurd but unhelpful in our collective fight to eradicate the pandemic."

But a senior administration official told the outlet that while Carson may be a renowned neurosurgeon, he is not an expert on infectious diseases or antiviral treatments.

Whitney told the outlet that while he hoped to start clinical trials on the extract, he was also pushing the FDA to allow it to immediately be sold as a dietary supplement. Administration officials said Whitney claimed that the extract cures the coronavirus within 48 hours, though the company would not be allowed to make that claim if it is approved as a dietary supplement.

Whitney said he stands by his claim that oleandrin is a "cure" for the coronavirus "100%."

"Now, there are all sorts of lawyers who would tell me I can't say things like that, because you know you need to have years of studies, and you need to have this, that, and the other and so forth," Whitney said. "But as an American with a right of free expression, I'm telling you, I've seen it with my own eyes."

A source told the outlet that Whitney had not actually provided the administration with any proof of his claim. Whitney said he did but did not provide any evidence.

"At this stage, it's probably best left at that. The data is compelling," he told Axios. "We have something that we believe will address the problem, and we want to make it available. We believe we should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that in a hospital clinical trial setting, and we believe that must happen now and not a month from now."

FDA chief Steven Hahn "appears to be resisting" the efforts, according to the report.

"If people were left to their own devices," one administration official told The Washington Post, "this would be the next hydroxychloroquine."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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