Provider of Trump Covid drug is president’s golf friend
New questions have emerged over the circumstances in which Donald Trump was given an experimental antibody drug cocktail produced by a golfing acquaintance to treat his coronavirus infection.
As Trump wrongly hailed his treatment – which included a drug called REGN-COV2 produced by Regeneron – as a “cure”, it emerged that the company’s chief executive, Leonard Schleifer, is a member of the Trump National golf club in Briarcliff Manor, New York, and had met the president in May to talk about drugs his company was developing.
While some ethicists have defended Trump’s privileged access as president to experimental treatments, others have suggested it raises questions of fairness among other concerns, including Trump’s history of touting unproven treatments.
Trump’s relationship with Schleifer, whom he reportedly calls “Lenny”, adds to growing questions over Trump’s almost exclusive access to experimental treatments unavailable to most other Americans, even as the president has continued to downplay the threat of coronavirus based on his own experience.
The price of stocks in Regeneron – which Trump has owned in the past – soared after it was revealed the drug had been made available for his treatment and Trump stated it would be made freely available for all, alhtough he didn’t explain how.
“I call that a cure,” Trump said in a video, adding that everyone should have access to the not-yet-approved drug for “free” and that he would make sure it was in every hospital as soon as possible.
After his comments, Regeneron announced it had applied to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an emergency use authorisation.
“Under our agreement with the US government for the initial doses of REGN-COV2, if an EUA is granted the government has committed to making these doses available to the American people at no cost and would be responsible for their distribution,” the company said in a statement.
“At this time, there are doses available for approximately 50,000 patients, and we expect to have doses available for 300,000 patients in total within the next few months.”
The White House doctor, Sean Conley, said Trump had been given a single 8g dose that was made available under a compassionate use clause. Compassionate use requests are decided on a case-by-case basis, and both the drug company and the FDA must agree.
The Regeneron spokeswoman Alexandra Bowie said fewer than 10 of these requests had been granted, and with the drug in limited supply the priority was to use it in ongoing studies. Emergency access was granted “only in rare and exceptional circumstances”, she said.
Regeneron also contacted the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, to alert him to the availability of the drug under the compassionate use rule.
Alison Bateman-House, an ethicist at New York University Langone Health, said Regeneron’s overture to Biden should raise concerns.
“That crosses lines of appearing to promote a potentially unapproved product” in violation of FDA rules, she told Associated Press. Rather than directing people to enrol in studies, it suggested: “Just call us up and we’ll cut the line for you”.
The antibody cocktail itself – REGN-COV2 – is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies designed to both treat people with coronavirus and to prevent Sars-CoV-2 infection. The antibodies are designed to prevent the coronavirus spike protein attaching to Ace2 receptors in the body – the path the virus uses to infect people.
The relationship between Trump, senior US government officials and Regeneron overlaps at multiple points.
In March, Schleifer and and the chief executive of Gilead, Daniel O’Day, which produces Remdesiver, were among biopharma executives who met at the White House to discuss their efforts to develop drugs and vaccines.
A month later, O’Day and Schleifer were among 200 leaders in 13 specific industries appointed to the Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups set up to “work together with the White House to chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity”.
Regeneron received $450m in government funding in July as part of the president’s Operation Warp Speed plan to quickly develop a vaccine and other treatments for Covid-19.
Trump’s depiction of the Regeneron cocktail as a “cure” has drawn fire from medical experts, with some saying there was no chance it could have cured him in 24 hours.
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