Fierce Pharma Politics—Latest need-to-know about Trump's COVID-19 case

The medical center in 2011
President Donald Trump could return to the White House today from Walter Reed military hospital (pictured above in 2011), but the decision has reportedly not yet been made.(United States Army/Public domain)

President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis and details about his care dominated headlines over the weekend. We’re bringing coverage and analysis to you in a news roundup. 

Pharma companies have made plenty of headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now their products are treating their most high-profile patient: President Donald Trump. As the crisis around his diagnosis unfolded over the weekend, all eyes were on Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the doctors treating him there.

Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday evening but didn’t disclose the result immediately as he waited for confirmation, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing people familiar with the matter. By late Friday, he was taken to Walter Reed. Officials said he was transported "out of an abundance of caution," but more info came to light over the weekend that raised concern among experts.

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Trump’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, briefed the media at two short press conferences Saturday and Sunday. During the course of his illness, the president has received Regeneron’s experimental monoclonal antibody, Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir and most recently the steroid dexamethasone, his doctors have said. In a video posted to Twitter on Saturday, Trump called the therapeutics “miracles.”

At a third briefing Monday afternoon, Trump's doctors said he'd be leaving Walter Reed later in the day to head back to the White House. Dr. Conley said the president is returning to a facility that's "staffed 24/7," but that he "may not be entirely out of the woods yet."

Meanwhile, Regeneron has also reached out to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign to make sure they know the antibody is available. Aside from researching the drug as a treatment, Regeneron is testing its antibody as a potential preventative therapy for people who have been exposed to the virus, CNBC's Meg Tirrell wrote on Twitter.

While Trump’s doctors said on Sunday that he was “doing well,” the decision to give him dexamethasone raised concerns among medical experts, the New York Times reports. The decades-old steroid has been shown to benefit severe patients, but isn’t typically used for patients with mild or moderate cases. In June, investigators in the U.K. showed that the drug cut deaths in COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized and requiring oxygen.  

In September, a series of trials confirmed that finding, and the World Health Organization issued a “strong recommendation” for the drugs in severe and critical COVID-19 cases. 

“Corticosteroids are inexpensive, readily available, and based on these data, are associated with reduced mortality in critically ill patients with COVID-19,” doctors wrote in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

Also at Sunday's briefing, Dr. Conley disclosed that Trump experienced “two episodes of transient drops in his oxygen saturation” during the course of his illness. Further, he said there are “expected findings” on a CT scan—without providing further details. Those disclosures, plus lack of clarity around them, also raised concern.

Yet, later in the day, Trump and members of the United States Secret Service did a short drive-by for the president’s supporters outside of the Walter Reed Medical Center. The move sparked criticism, including from Walter Reed attending physician James P. Phillips, that the president was endangering Secret Service members in the vehicle.  

It isn't completely clear whether Trump's aggressive care is due to the potential severity of his case, or whether it's because he's the president. Some doctors have raised the concern that he could be overtreated.

Meanwhile, several other people who attended the White House’s Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett have since tested positive, including three Republican senators. The New York Times has more details about the event and possible spread there. 

“I don’t think the procedures around the president were providing him the protection he needed and deserved,” former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the Washington Post. “The cavalier approach that put the president at risk extended into some of the policy choices that were made and how they approached COVID as a matter of public policy.”