CORONAVIRUS

Iowa 'not pursuing' buy of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine

Testing firm hired by state linked to drugmaker

Ashton Kutcher appears at an awards ceremony April 8, 2017, at the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University i
Ashton Kutcher appears at an awards ceremony April 8, 2017, at the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University in Des Moines. Kutcher received the Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award for his humanitarian work. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The founder of a Utah company that landed a $26 million contract to greatly increase coronavirus testing in Iowa also serves on the board of a pharmacy that sells a malaria drug President Donald Trump touted as a treatment for COVID-19 but that the Food and Drug Administration warned about Friday.

Nomi Health founder Mark Newman told the Salt Lake Tribune, which broke the story, and later The Gazette, that he does not see his dual role as a conflict of interest.

Newman said patients wouldn’t have to buy any prescription from the company he helps direct, Meds in Motion.

“They should just go to Walmart or CVS or whatever and pick up their prescription,” he told the Tribune.

Nomi Health and its subsidiary secured the no-bid contract with Iowa to supply test kits and develop the TestIowa.com website, where Iowans can take a coronavirus assessment.

That assessment asks Iowans whether they are allergic to the drug — hydroxychloroquine.

Despite the drug’s mention in the assessment, Iowa officials are not pursuing a contract to buy hydroxychloroquine, said Pat Garrett, spokesman for Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“The assessment asks about several potential allergies, all to drugs that were floated as potential treatments to COVID-19,” Garrett said.

Test Iowa launched this week to “crush the curve” by screening possible COVID-19 cases through an online platform. Those whose symptoms qualify are tested at no cost to them.

The effort is a partnership between the state and Nomi Health and subsidiary DOMO.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Meds in Motion — where Newman serves on the board — had contracted with Utah for 20,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine worth $800,000.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the state bought the drug without his knowledge and he was looking into how that had happened, the newspaper reported.

On Friday, the FDA warned against taking hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 outside of a hospital or formal clinical trial. The warning came after reports of health issues including “serious heart rhythm problems,” the FDA said.

Newman told The Gazette that at the time the Iowa questionnaire was made, hydroxychloroquine was one of only a few drugs thought to be possible treatments for COVID-19. He said he is considering removing it from the questionnaire.

Newman said he would consider resigning from the board of Meds in Motion if that became a significant issue.

The Test Iowa Initiative was launched after the governor acted on a tip from actor and Iowa native Ashton Kutcher.

In a statement from Kutcher through his spokesman, Kutcher said he was talking to Reynolds about “tightening up the stay-at-home orders in Iowa” because he saw the virus spread “was increasing very fast.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I also suggested she connect with Governor Herbert and his Test Utah team. He and I have also been talking about foster care solutions. Governor Reynolds jumped at the chance and moved fast to implement,” Kutcher said, according to the statement.

“My family is in Iowa. My friends are in Iowa. I am and will always be an Iowan. My first order of duty is to protect my family,” Kutcher said.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.