CNN anchor Anderson Cooper went viral on Twitter after taking to task MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell on August 18. Cooper was interviewing Lindell about oleandrin, a controversial drug he’s pushing to President Donald Trump as a new “amazing” coronavirus cure. “How do you sleep at night?” Cooper asked Lindell.
Oleandrin, an experimental botanical extract, has also been embraced by Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. Lindell has taken “a financial stake in the company that develops the product,” according to Axios.
On Tuesday, Cooper challenged Lindell, who sits on the board of directors for Phoenix Biotechnology, Inc. — the company developing the oleandrin product — on the drug’s legitimacy and safety. Cooper asked, “Where was the test? Where is it done? Who did the test? There’s been no phase one and phase two on this drug, sir.”
MyPillow’s founder brushed aside Cooper’s comments. “You’re just misconstrued because the media is trying to take away this amazing cure that works for everybody,” Lindell said, before Cooper interjected with a summary of the situation.
“Just for our viewers,” Cooper said, “you have no medical background. You are not a scientist. A guy called you in April — said he had this product. You are now on the board and going to make money from the sale of this product. The reason he reached out to you is because you have the ear of the president, so you keep getting to meet with the president. And you get to make money from this. How do you sleep at night?”
Lindell defended himself, saying, “I do what Jesus has me do. I give my glory to God.”
At the end of the interview, Cooper brought Dr. Jake Deutsch, “a real doctor,” the CNN host said, into the conversation. Deutsch said oleandrin contains a “highly toxic substance” and that more people would die from taking oleandrin than from COVID-19.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta later told Wolf Blitzer on CNN, “What’s going on here is that a totally unproven therapy that is actually quite dangerous is something that has made its way into the ear of the president. This is not something that you want to take.”
What Is Oleandrin?
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “Oleandrin may inhibit the growth of some cancer cells in the lab, but it has not yet been shown to be an effective cancer treatment.” No clinical trials have been conducted on “the anticancer activities of oleandrin in humans,” according to the website. There is “no scientific evidence” to support claims that oleandrin can treat congestive heart failure, hepatitis C or AIDS, the site indicates, although “it contains substances that are similar to the active chemical found in the heart medication digoxin.”
Oleandrin is extracted from the plant Nerium oleander, a shrub native to northern Africa, the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, according to Memorial Solan Kettering Cancer Center. The Missouri Botanical Garden says the plant is winter hardy in US zones 8-10 and prized for its “abundant, fragrant” purple, pink or white flowers in the summer and fall.
“All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested. Plant saps can cause allergic skin reactions in some people. Smoke from burning plant material can also be quite toxic,” the site advises.
Senior Official Expressed Worry About Trump Pushing Oleandrin as a Cure for COVID-19
Cooper is not the only person questioning the promotion of oleandrin as a cure for COVID-19. An anonymous senior Trump administration official told Axios, “The involvement of the Secretary of HUD and MyPillow 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.”
Trump Expressed Enthusiasm for Oleandrin as a Possible Cure for Coronavirus
Trump initially promoted hydroxychloroquine as a preventive for coronavirus and lobbied U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn to speed up its emergency approval. While the FDA initially approved the drug’s use, it later revoked the approval after studies showed it was unhelpful in treating coronavirus, CNN reported.
As for oleandrin, Trump told questioning reporters during a White House press briefing, “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 Independent reported.
Lindell told Axios that Trump “basically said” the FDA “should be approving” the supplement. However, the FDA has yet to comment on oleandrin as a possible cure for COVID-19.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that no one should be taking oleandrin. “Don’t take it. Stay away. This is quackery,” Schaffner said. “Do not take medications of any kind to either prevent this infection or to treat it that hasn’t been vetted very, very carefully by the scientific community.”