On January 31, a few days after Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro introduced Carvativir, the “miracle drops” that are supposed to neutralize COVID-19, he called out skeptics for a “campaign of hatred, revenge and lies” against the drug.
Maduro's accusations against critics are misleading; he initially provided only limited and insufficient evidence to support the drug's effectiveness. Moreover, Maduro himself later backtracked from his original claim that Carvativir is “miraculous," instead calling it just a “complementary" treatment.
Maduro initially claimed that Carvativir “100 percent neutralizes the coronavirus.” Isothymol, which is found in the essential oil of plants like thyme, is Carvativir’s active agent, but there is no peer-reviewed data on its effectiveness. (Polygraph.info previously fact checked Maduro’s Carvativir claim and rated it as unsubstantiated.)
According to Venezuela’s independent newspaper El Pitazo, Maduro's January 24 announcement introducing Carvativir “was so controversial that YouTube censored several news channels … carrying the item, arguing that the claim has not been scientifically proven.”
Who’s Making the Stuff?
Carvativir is being manufactured, as well as studied, by the Pharmacological Laboratory of Venezuela, or Labfarven (Laboratorio Farmacologico de Venezuela). Beyond a lack of information from studies, there are questions about Labfarven’s reliability and the research team behind it.
On January 31, the Venezuelan investigative news organization Armando.info published an article titled, “From merchants to scientists: the true miracle of the Carvativir,” which traced back the origins of both the laboratory and the drug’s developers.
Citing Venezuela's National Integrated Service for the Administration of Customs Duties and Taxes (Seniat), Armando.info reported that Labfarven was previously registered as a small spare parts and vehicle accessories shop called Miami Customs and Accessories.
The drug’s developers are “not a paragon of scientific credentials either,” Armando.info wrote. The main member of the team, Raul Antonio Ojeda Rondon, was president of the National Commission of Intellectuals and Diplomats of the recently closed National Constituent Assembly, which the Maduro government established in 2017 to draft a new constitution for Venezuela.
Ojeda Rondon was also president of the state-controlled oil company PDVSA. In 2018, he was arrested on corruption charges while serving as vice president of the Venezuelan Petroleum Corporation, a PDVSA subsidiary. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Ojeda Rondon for links to Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s former vice president, who is on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Most Wanted List for international narcotics trafficking and money laundering.
Another member of the team that developed Carvativir is Jheam Frank Campos Alvarado. According to Armando.info, both he and Ojeda Rondon “are listed as shareholders and directors of Labfarven,” along with members of the Research and Development Department of J&R Drugstore. Armando.info said it could find little trace of the business anywhere, but "At least it is observed that the name of the drugstore coincides with the initials of the first names of both, Jheam and Raúl.”
What information is available?
Following Maduro's announcement introducing Carvativir, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) requested information concerning its efficacy. The Venezuelan National Academy of Medicine (ANM) published a preliminary note saying thyme extracts have “therapeutic potential against coronavirus,” but that it would be prudent to wait for more data from Carvativir tests. Those tests would be conducted in accordance with international protocols needed “to qualify as a candidate for an anti-COVID-19 drug,” the academy said.
ANM also issued a statement saying that it was “not aware of any study that scientifically demonstrates the effectiveness of this or any other 'natural' treatment for the COVID-19 disease.”
On January 27, the Association of Researchers from the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research (IVIC) said it did not know of any studies done on Carvativir, El Nacional newspaper reported. Four days later, however, Hector Rangel, a virologist who leads IVIC’s studies on potential drugs against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), affirmed that Carvativir showed antiviral activity "in vitro,” meaning in laboratory tests.
Dr. Jaime Torres, from the Institute of Tropical Medicine of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), expressed doubt about the “miracle drops.” He told the independent Venezuelan multimedia company El Pitazo that “it gets mentioned that the drops get elaborated with thyme extracts, but we do not know which component of the plant, for example, if it is acid, alcohol, oil, or mixtures. We do not know the doses or the details of the pre-clinical study.”
The day of Maduro introduced Carvativir, Dr. Francisco Marty, a Boston infectious disease specialist, noted on his Twitter feed that a 69-page report about isothymol had been published on the Scribd platform by Ojeda Rondon, and other authors “[from] this local Pharma company, a doctor from one of the Caracas Public Hospitals and someone from a government agency.”
The document is no longer available on Scribd. However, according to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, a digital archive of snapshots of websites as they exist at a given moment, the document was available up until January 26.
Another document, a study dealing with phase I and II clinical trials, and also co-authored by Ojeda Rondon and Campos with Labfarven prominently labeled on the cover, has been on sale as a paperback for $5 on Amazon since September 2020, Armando.info reported. Polygraph.info was able to confirm the volume is available on Amazon.
The clinical trials, as described in the book’s summary, included 100 COVID-19 patients who underwent a course of treatment with isothymol lasting seven to 14 days. Fifty of the patients were on supplemental oxygen, 10 on mechanical ventilation and 40 were asymptomatic. After the treatment, 46 of the 50 patients were discharged and nine of the 10 were taken off ventilators.
The 40 asymptomatic patients were tested for antibodies, and all showed positive IgG antibodies (detectable after 14 days of infection) and negative igM antibodies (developed in the early stages of infection), which means the patients had recovered from COVID-19 and were no longer infectious.
Carvativir is not the first drug that Maduro has touted as a COVID-19 miracle treatment. In October 2020, the president announced Venezuelan scientists had isolated the molecule DR-10, which he claimed killed 100 percent of the coronavirus with no side effects.
Maduro said their findings on DR-10, a derivative of ursolic acid previously used to treat diseases like Hepatitis C, had been presented to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
At the time, PAHO confirmed to Polygraph.info that the Venezuelan health ministry had reached out about studying DR-10.
To date, Venezuela has reported more than 128,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,200 deaths from the disease, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. The true numbers are likely higher.