Ben Carson says it's premature to promote latest unproven coronavirus treatment

Cabinet official says extract, pitched to president, needs clinical trials.

August 19, 2020, 5:44 PM

Housing Secretary Ben Carson said today it was premature to promote an unproven treatment for coronavirus, days after it was reported he was in an Oval Office meeting in which the treatment was brought up with the president.

Carson, a former neurosurgeon, declined to discuss details of the July meeting that was also attended by Mike Lindell, a supporter of the president, founder of the pillow company called MyPillow and a vocal promoter of the treatment. But Carson confirmed discussion of the plant extract -- among other ideas -- with the president, saying that "he too, like myself, [is] interested in pursuing all the different avenues for finding solutions."

"It's not time for it yet," Carson said in an interview with ABC News, saying the unproven extract, called oleandrin, should go through human trials before gaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration. "You need to go to the next step, you need to go through the process."

"What hopefully will happen is that clinical trials will occur," Carson said. "This should go the same route as other things do. We shouldn't, you know, skip the process."

Dr. Matthew Heinz, an Arizona-based internal medicine physician currently caring for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, cautioned to ABC News that oleander, the plant from which oleandrin is extracted, can be dangerous.

"This is not a friendly plant... don't go near this plant," said Heinz, who spent time in a poison control center and fielded calls about oleandrin poisoning as part of his medical education. "Accidentally ingesting even small amounts can kill you."

Carson's comments come after Lindell has publicly promoted oleandrin as a "miracle to the country" to treat COVID-19, while providing zero evidence to back up his claim.

"You know, what happened with Mike Lindell, who is a fantastic salesperson, but not a scientist, perhaps distorts the process," Carson said of his friend, who Carson said he met at a prayer breakfast many years ago. Lindell did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump listens as Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow Inc., speaks during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the White House, March 30, 2020.
President Donald Trump listens as Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow Inc., speaks during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the White House, March 30, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Lindell told Axios that during that July meeting with the president that included Carson, Lindell and Andrew Whitney, the CEO of Phoenix Biotechnology -- the company that's developing the product -- that Trump "basically said...'The FDA should be approving it.'"

Carson said he has no reason to believe that the president is pressuring the FDA for approval, but said the agency is studying the extract.

The FDA told ABC News, “Per policy, the FDA does not comment, confirm or deny on potential product applications.”

President Trump has stopped short of promoting the drug, but has said it's something the administration is exploring. However, on Tuesday, when asked about Lindell's comments, said he doesn't know anything about what he's promoting.

“I know nothing about it other than I know he's got something that he's working with some science people," Trump said.

Carson, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a former renowned neurosurgeon and said he receives recommendations from former colleagues. He said he will then will sift through them and decide which ones to bring to the president. In the interview with ABC News, Carson would not detail information on the extract that he claims to have seen that's not public.

"And I do from time to time talk to the president about a variety of different things. And I obviously don't want to share Oval Office conversations," Carson said.

When asked about whether Lindell's comments pushing an unproven cure for coronavirus is dangerous and potentially putting lives at risk, Carson encouraged waiting for any potential clinical trial results before reaching a conclusion the drug's merits.

"I mean it's one of the things that you hear about oleander all the time is that it's poison. So I think most people probably aren't anxious to take poison, right? So I think they are going to wait until the process is done," he said.

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