President Nicolas Maduro said Venezuelan scientists have isolated a molecule that inhibits the Covid-19 virus and will ask the World Health Organization to evaluate its potential use on a global scale.
The active ingredient is a derivative of a plant’s ursolic acid and non-toxic to humans, Maduro said in a statement on state television Sunday. Six months of research at the government-backed scientific institute IVIC led to the discovery, he said.
“The molecule will be mass-produced and shipped worldwide for the cure of Covid-19,” said Maduro. “I’m calling this the magic molecule,” he added.
Ursolic acid is sold in the U.S. and other countries as a dietary supplement with alleged anti-inflammatory properties.
On hearing the news, researchers in Europe and the U.S. questioned the validity of the Venezuelan findings. “There is really no scientific research going on in the country since the best scientists have left and those who remain have no equipment or other resources to conduct their work,” said Ian Mathis, an infectious disease specialist at University College, London. “Two good scientists that I am familiar with in Caracas are currently in jail for complaining about the government’s poor response to Covid.”
Harvard University researcher Jess Morrison said he reviewed the Venezuelan data on ursolic and said it was amateurish. “A high school chemistry student in the U.S. would flunk if he presented this work for a grade. As far as Maduro goes, I seriously doubt he would know the difference between a molecule and a house fly.”