The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, announced at the end of January Carvativir, a drug with “miraculous” properties and capable of completely neutralizing COVID-19. Shortly after, he rectified his statements and assured that it is a “complementary” medicine for the treatment against the coronavirus. Despite scientific skepticism and numerous criticisms, Maduro has not stopped publicizing the drug on a daily basis, the effectiveness of which has yet to be demonstrated.
Two weeks after being announced, the studies that support this drug are still not fully known, which the Government – reported – will be produced in a massive way.
WHAT IS CARVATIVIR?
According to Maduro himself, Carvativir is a broad spectrum antiviral extracted from thyme, a genus with more than 300 species of herbs.
The essential oil of this plant is the raw material for Carvativir by means of a phytochemical compound known as isothymol, a substance that athletes use for its supposed -unproven- ability to eliminate muscle fatigue.
The vehicle or excipient of Carvativir is squalene, an organic compound whose presentation for commercial purposes is derived from shark liver oil, but also from vegetable sources such as rice bran, wheat germ or olives.
Squalene is used as an adjuvant in vaccines – such as influenza – because it stimulates the immune system.
In other words, Carvativir is the sum of substances that are already known and that the pharmaceutical industry has been exploiting for commercial purposes for a long time.
WHO MADE THE DRUG?
The main investigators of the Carvativir include the Venezuelans Raúl Ojeda Rondón and Jheam Frank Campos, two partners and directors of the Labfarven laboratory and the JR Droguería, companies about which little is known.
In an interview with the local newspaper El Nacional, Ojeda Rondón said that Carvativir was produced by “a line of scientific research by the Venezuelan State through the Ministry of Science and Technology” between March and last December.
He pointed out that the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC), the Rafael Rangel National Institute of Hygiene, the National Service of Medicine and Forensic Sciences, and the Ministry of Health were also part of the research team.
This group carried out a three-phase research process that was “multicenter, randomized and with placebo”, supervised by a bioethics committee made up of 14 experts in various areas.
WHAT STUDIES SUPPORT THE DRUG?
The Government assured that the drug is supported by a 9-month study carried out by various institutions that depend on the State, including the IVIC.
This study was not officially presented, despite the fact that Maduro promised more than a week ago that it would be published “in the next few days,” as requested by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
However, on the Scribd platform -which serves to host documents- there is a report uploaded by Raúl Ojeda Rondón and entitled “antiviral and immunomodulatory activity of the recombined isothymol compound against the SARS-COV-2 agent”, a kind of summary of the investigation on the Carvativir.
The Executive also said that part of the study was completed in several foreign laboratories, which analyzed samples without knowing what it was about, including the laboratory of the US Mayo Clinic, according to the Minister of Science and Technology of Venezuela, Gabriela Jiménez.
The Administration assures that these studies were carried out first in vitro and then with a group of mild, moderate and severe patients. In addition to these, drops were applied, while others were given a placebo.
The researcher Ojeda Rondón pointed out that an in vitro test showed that Carvativir successfully inhibited the reproduction of the virus.
IS CARVATIVIR “MIRACULOUS”?
The Carvativir, presented as “miraculous”, was lowered two days later to “complementary” by Maduro himself, who accepted that his initial words aroused “tremendous controversy.”
The strong man of Chavismo and deputy Diosdado Cabello, who said he had overcome covid-19 after needing intensive care, also defended the effectiveness of the drug, which he said he used during his treatment.
“Take the gothic and save your life”, recommended Cabello during the broadcast of his weekly program.
Ojeda Rondón, meanwhile, ruled out classifying the drug as “miraculous” and specified that Carvativir is “effective” and shortens recovery times from the disease.
Although some details of the drug were dripped, it is not yet known how it is administered or how it is applied to seriously ill patients, who are usually intubated.
WHAT IS THE POSITION OF THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY?
The Venezuelan scientific community has been skeptical after the Maduro government’s announcements about Carvativir and the Venezuelan Academy of Medicine (AVM) warned that it is not aware of the studies on the drug, while recommending waiting for more data.
“There is only one valid conclusion from the information so far in the public domain: thyme extracts, including many of the essential oils derived from that plant, have therapeutic potential against coronavirus. However, it is prudent to wait for more data from the Carvativir tests, “AVM said in a statement.
In the same vein, the IVIC researchers association – where part of the Carvativir study was developed – was stated, which assured that they do not know the results of the research.
Doubts about the effectiveness of Carvativir led Facebook, YouTube and Tik Tok to delete videos of Maduro talking about the drug, something that the president classified as censorship and led him to ask the world to reflect on the “abuses” of social networks.
Covid-19 has caused in Venezuela, according to official data, 1,200 deaths and some 130,000 infections.