Trump admin. funds plasma company based in owner’s condo

WASHINGTON (AP) — An obscure South Carolina company may be in line for millions of dollars in U.S. government funding to produce a coronavirus treatment after a former Republican senator with a financial stake in the business lobbied senior U.S. government officials.

Plasma Technologies LLC, has received seed money to test a possible COVID-19-fighting blood plasma technology. But as much as $65 million more could be on the way, a windfall for the company that operates out of the founder’s luxury condo, according to internal government records and other documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The story of how a tiny business, which exists only on paper, has managed to snare so much top-level attention is emblematic of the Trump administration’s frenetic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

And it’s another in a series of contracts awarded despite concerns over their proposals voiced by government scientists. The others include an $21 million study of the heartburn drug Pepcid as a COVID therapy, and more than a half-billion dollars to ApiJect Systems America, a startup with an unapproved medicine injection technology and no factory to manufacture the devices. In addition, a government whistleblower claimed that a $1.6 billion vaccine contract to Novavax Inc. was made over objections of scientific staff.

At the center of these deals is Dr. Robert Kadlec, a senior Trump appointee at the Department of the Health and Human Services, who backed the Pepcid, Novavax and ApiJect projects. Records obtained by the AP also describe Kadlec as a key supporter of Plasma Tech, owned by Eugene Zurlo, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and well-connected Republican donor. Three years ago, Zurlo brought Rick Santorum, who spent 12 years as a GOP senator from Pennsylvania, aboard as a part-owner.

Kadlec has come under pressure from the White House to act with more urgency and not be bound by lower-level science officials whom Trump has castigated as the “deep state” and accused of politically motivated delays in fielding COVID-19 vaccines and remedies.


The AP reached out to more than a dozen blood plasma industry leaders and medical experts. Few had heard of Zurlo’s company or its technology for turning human plasma into protein-rich antibody therapies, and would not comment.

Zurlo said in an email that the shortage of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, which is needed to make these therapies, underlines the need for the technology he’s patented to harvest as many of these proteins as possible.

In early April, shortly after Congress supplied hundreds of billions of dollars to combat the pandemic, Santorum stepped up his sales pitch for Plasma Technologies and the process the company has described as “disruptive and transformative,” according to the records.

In mid-August, the federal government awarded Plasma Technologies a $750,000 grant to demonstrate that it could deliver on its promises.

HHS would not comment when asked whether Santorum’s public backing of the president helped the company he has a financial stake in getting a government contract.

Santorum told the AP it would have been a

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Quebec fitness centre owners back down on threat to defy COVID-19 lockdown orders

An empty gym is seen in Montreal, on Oct. 26, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

A group of Quebec fitness centre owners says its members are no longer planning to open Thursday in defiance of the government’s lockdown orders.

The owners released a statement today calling on their clients to instead join them in a series of protests outside their gyms and fitness studios on Thursday.

On Monday, a coalition of more than 250 gym owners threatened to open their doors this week, prompting a warning from Premier Francois Legault that they and their clients would be fined.

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This week Legault extended lockdown orders across regions under the government’s highest pandemic-alert levels – including Montreal and Quebec City – from Oct. 28 to Nov. 23.

Bars, restaurant dining areas, gyms and entertainment venues have been ordered to close.

The gym owners say their protests on Thursday will conform to the provincial COVID-19 health regulations.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Countries around the world are working on a coronavirus vaccine, including right here in Canada. Globe and Mail science reporter Ivan Semeniuk discussed the timeline and challenges in developing COVID-19 vaccines during a facebook live. The Globe and Mail

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