As the deadly coronavirus crept its way across America unimpeded by the Trump administration, on February 13, 24 days after the first case hit the U.S., Vice President Mike Pence attended a “Trump Victory” campaign fundraiser at the sparkling new high-tech facilities of Nephron Pharmaceuticals in Cayce, S.C. Lou Kennedy, Nephron’s statuesque blonde multimillionaire owner who hosted the private fundraiser, has a somewhat mixed reputation in South Carolina.
While she has been praised for supplementing the income of hundreds of teachers in the state, offering them $21-per hour part-time jobs at her drug manufacturing company, many accuse Kennedy of taking advantage of South Carolina’s strict anti-union laws and limiting employees’ hours to avoid paying full benefits. Workers have complained about how Nephron treats employees, calling it “the worst place in SC to work for” and saying it has “no Integrity, no Ethics, no respect for people.” Before the company relocated to South Carolina, the Food and Drug Administration cited Kennedy’s business for “significant violations of current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) regulations for finished pharmaceuticals.”
But as a staunch supporter of conservative causes, Kennedy is a beloved member of the MAGA nation. According to Federal Election Committee records, she has donated more than $125,000 to Republican campaigns and political organizations since 2015, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC) and the infamous Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who screamed “you lie!” during President Obama’s State of the Union address but has since been curiously silent about his fellow GOP president’s penchant for alternative facts. Kennedy’s generosity had earned her meetings with Trump and other senior administration officials, including, his daughter Ivanka and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Now the coronavirus pandemic is making Kennedy richer.
Nephron already makes inhalers and respiratory medications and has seen orders more than double since the coronavirus outbreak. And on Tuesday, the National Association of Manufacturers reported that Nephron has asked federal regulators, including the FDA, for permission to open up six new lines of products to help treat COVID-19.
“I can tell you that we have never seen a more responsive FDA,” said Kennedy. “All things are moving at breakneck speed, and I am so appreciative for that.”
There’s only one weird thing about this economic windfall:
Dr. Helmut Albrecht, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of South Carolina and Palmetto Health USC Medical Group, said he has not seen an increased need for the medications, but said it may be possible doctors are using them to treat coronavirus symptoms.
“If you have asthma or chronic bronchitis, various outside stimuli, mostly allergies and infections, can trigger bronchospasms,” which these medications treat, he said. “Coronavirus is certainly an infection that can trigger these in susceptible (people) even though we have not seen many problems with obstructive disease in our initial patients.”
Dr. Michael Spandorfer, a pulmonologist at Roper St. Francis in Charleston, said physicians have actually pulled away from nebulized versions of these medications, like those made in Columbia.
Nebulizers, which create a medicated mist to be inhaled, can disperse COVID-19 droplets further, putting health care providers treating patients at increased risk of exposure. Delivering those medications through inhalers is preferred but those have become more scarce, Spandorfer said.
“I just think there’s been a mad rush on all the medications from what I’ve seen,” he said.
That said, the Medical University of South Carolina has stated that Nephron’s drugs are often used to alleviate respiratory symptoms and can be used on COVID-19 symptoms “when medically appropriate.”
In a letter to The Root, attorneys for Nephron pointed out: “Nephron employs 100 interns and students, 750 teachers, and 1200 full time employees providing $4.4 million/year in benefits and healthcare for its employees and over $100,000 per week on its educator program.”
They also wanted you to know that they are hiring.
But Kennedy is just one of many people who are benefiting from their proximity to Donald Trump in the time of coronavirus. A select group of politicians, businessmen and people who wear MAGA hats are exclusively enjoying a brand new financial bonanza.
As the American people weather this coronavirus-inspired economic storm, Donald Trump is making it rain.
During the combative coronavirus daily presidential press conferences that have replaced his attention-seeking campaign rallies, President Trump has repeatedly advocated for the off-label use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria and lupus. Even without ample scientific evidence, Dr. Trump has touted the prescription medication as a “game-changer,” much to the chagrin of his medical advisers.
I wonder why.
According to the New York Times, three of the Trump family trusts own a small amount of stock in Sanofi, a French company that manufactures the drug’s brand name, Plaquenil. But many of the president’s allies have a larger financial interest in the drug’s success.
Fisher Asset Management, run by billionaire investor and Trump ally Ken Fischer, owns the largest share of Sanofi. Fisher has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. But, of course, maybe he considers his donations to Trump’s campaign an “investment.”
Wilbur Ross, who serves as the secretary of commerce and I pray will one day play Mr. Smithers in a movie based on The Simpsons, owns a stake in Sanofi as well as Mylan, another company projected to make millions if hydroxychloroquine is approved as a treatment for COVID-19. In a statement on Monday, Ross insisted that he “was not aware” that Invesco, the company he ran before leading the federal department in charge of creating “the conditions for economic growth and opportunity,” was now poised to win the coronavirus lottery.
Other beneficiaries include:
- Trump golfing buddy Chirag Patel, who owns Amneal Pharmaceuticals. Not only does Patel own a membership to Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, N.J., but his drug company just happens to be gearing up to start making hydroxychloroquine, the National Review reports.
- Roberto Mignone, who owns Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, another company that will be making the drug. Mignone has already reached out to Jared Kushner. Either the two were talking about COVID-19 drugs or hair replacement therapy.
- Rudy Giuliani, who halted his Ukraine investigation to urge President Trump to look into the medication. Giuliani, who shocked the world by revealing he was not a doctor, says he does not have a financial stake in a drug company but has close ties with some of the previously mentioned ballers.
But it’s not just drug company billionaires who are pandemic profiting. Trump allies Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) famously dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock before they revealed the extent of the impending global pandemic. But Bloomberg reports that Trump ally Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) purchased $46,000 worth of shares in a travel company on March 6. That same day, she boarded a flight with President Trump to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in her home state. Days later, on March 10 and 11, Loeffler dumped the stocks.
On March 11, shortly after the markets closed, Donald Trump announced the European travel ban.
It was probably just a coincidence.
There are tons of examples of Trump donors and Republican supporters using inside knowledge and Trump adjacency to benefit themselves. Like how Loeffler suddenly decided to buy stock in one of the biggest makers of personal protective equipment before anyone knew it was in short supply. Or the private equity firm that asked Jared Kushner to get Trump to tailor the stimulus bill to their liking. But as reports continue to surface of Trump allies hitting the coronavirus Powerball, something weird happened:
The FEC’s website suddenly crashed.
I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Updated, 4/9/20, 6:54 p.m.: Language from Nephron Pharmaceutical’s attorneys has been added to note the company’s response to this article.