Dr. Oz has ties to hydroxychloroquine companies as he supports Covid treatment

Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, has financial ties to at least two pharmaceutical companies that supply hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that he has marketed as a possible Covid-19 treatment.

Oz, a physician and veteran TV host facing Democrat John Fetterman in the race for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, owns with his wife at least $615,000 in shares of Thermo Fisher Scientific, according to his financial disclosure. Thermo Fisher Scientific’s website lists hydroxychloroquine sulfate as one of its available products. It is unclear when Oz and his wife bought the stock or if they owned it when Oz promoted hydroxychloroquine as a Covid treatment early in the pandemic.

Oz and his wife also own between $15,001 and $50,000 in McKesson Corporation stock, according to the disclosure. The company labels and distributes hydroxychloroquine sulfate, according to the FDA. It is also unclear when they bought McKesson stock.

Hydroxychloroquine sulfate is the anti-malarial drug commonly known as hydroxychloroquine, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Doctors around the country, boosted in part by endorsements from former President Donald Trump and conservative media figures, have offered the drug to patients as a Covid treatment despite its dubious efficacy against the virus.

Oz’s financial ties to a manufacturer and distributor of the drug and his promotion of it as a potential Covid treatment raise questions about what he could gain from its wider use during the pandemic. If he wins the Senate election, he could also face conflicts of interest as Congress grapples with an ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement responding to CNBC questions about Oz’s dealings with companies that manufacture or distribute hydroxychloroquine, including when he and his wife bought Thermo Fisher Scientific stock, Oz campaign spokeswoman Brittany Yanick did not discuss the candidate’s financial holdings.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Mehmet Oz spoke to health experts around the world who saw hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as viable treatment options for desperately ill COVID patients. He offered to fund the clinical trial at Columbia University,” she said.

The FDA has approved hydroxychloroquine to fight malaria, but warned that it “has not been shown to be safe and effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.”

Oz took bold steps early in the pandemic to promote its use as a treatment. He urged Trump administration officials in 2020 to support a study he aimed to fund at Columbia University Medical Center on the effects of hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19 patients, according to emails obtained and released by the House Select Subcommittee about the coronavirus crisis.

Oz also has ties to a third company that says it divested hydroxychloroquine from its US portfolio.

Sanofi, which is headquartered in France and previously made hydroxychloroquine, for years supported Oz’s nonprofit, HealthCorps, according to the group’s annual disclosure reports. Between 2009 and 2018, Sanofi was listed as either a sponsor or in-kind supporter of the Oz-funded group, which promotes itself as aiming to help teenagers with their health and wellbeing. In 2013, Sanofi is listed as one of the group’s “school sponsors”. HealthCorps’ website says a school sponsor must donate $100,000 to qualify.

Sanofi announced in April 2020 that it would donate 100 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to 50 countries around the world as studies assessed the drug’s effectiveness in treating Covid-19.

A spokesperson for Sanofi told CNBC that the company is not involved in Oz’s comments about Covid-19 or hydroxychloroquine. He explained that Sanofi divested hydroxychloroquine from its US portfolio in 2013 and was investigating the use of the drug at the start of the Covid pandemic as a possible way to fight the virus. When it was deemed ineffective against Covid-19, the company stopped working on it.

The spokesperson also explained that the company’s last financial contribution to HealthCorps came in 2011. The company’s representative later corrected itself in a follow-up email to CNBC after this story was published, saying that 2013 was actually the last year Sanofi gave a financial donation to HealthCorps.

Oz’s ties to companies that would benefit from wider use of hydroxychloroquine could pose problems for the Republican if he wins the Senate seat. Kedric Payne, an ethics attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, told CNBC in an email that Oz could choose to divest from the companies if he were to defeat Fetterman in November.

“He could be in for a rude awakening if elected because ethics rules could bar him from this activity. Senators cannot use their positions to promote any goods or services that financially benefit them,” Payne said. “Oz could voluntarily divest the stock if elected or stop promoting anything linked to his stock.”

A spokesman for Thermo Fisher Scientific declined to comment. A representative for McKesson did not return a request for comment prior to publication.

Since launching his campaign late last year, Oz has downplayed warnings from the FDA and other experts against using hydroxychloroquine as a Covid treatment. He suggested political distaste for Trump endorsing the drug as a treatment, and Oz in the Senate election, motivated criticism of the drug as a means of fighting Covid.

“Now, let me just say this quickly, I really don’t know if it works or not, we still to this day hadn’t been able to prove if it [hydroxychloroquine] works or not, which is a shame because we should have known by now whether a cheap 70-year-old drug used by a billion people works or not,” Oz said at a campaign rally earlier this year. “But we do not t, which is a problem in itself. But I mentioned it, and then President Trump mentioned it in a press conference, and all of a sudden the whole world hated hydroxychloroquine without testing it, without knowing about it.”

Before launching his campaign, Oz was a more explicit proponent of hydroxychloroquine. During a March 2020 Fox News interview at the height of the pandemic, Oz said that “hydroxychloroquine is playing a role” in fighting the virus. A graphic on the screen while Oz was being interviewed called the anti-malaria drug “promising” as a Covid-19 treatment option.

Oz also sought the White House’s help in kick-starting the hydroxychloroquine study he hoped to fund at Columbia, where he was once vice chairman of the surgery department. He has since said the investigation never got underway.

The Pennsylvania candidate’s communications with White House officials were released by the House Select Subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis last month. In an email from March 2020 to former Trump White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, Oz said he would recruit patients and pay for the hydroxychloroquine trial himself.

Also in March 2020, Oz emailed Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner that “we must make the completion of this investigation a national priority and insist on immediate enrollment,” according to the correspondence obtained and released by the House committee. Kushner responded to Oz the same day: “What do you recommend to speed it up?”

The New York Post reports that Oz spent $8,800 at the time on hydroxychloroquine tablets for the study and offered to spend $250,000.

Oz, while campaigning for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat, accused then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of stalling the study after he effectively banned the anti-malarial drug as a Covid treatment.

Oz’s financial ties could become a bigger problem for him if he wins the Pennsylvania race, one of a handful of contests that will determine which party controls the Senate next year. A Real Clear Politics polling average shows Fetterman leading Oz by nearly 7 percentage points.

Stock ownership in Congress faces increased scrutiny. Some lawmakers have proposed a ban on individual stock trades in Congress, which would require lawmakers to put assets into a blind trust or divest entirely.

Business Insider has identified at least 71 lawmakers who have violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act. The law aims to prevent members of Congress from trading stocks based on insider information obtained from their work as lawmakers.

However, members of Congress have largely faced few consequences for lucrative stock trades.

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