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Drug firm honcho given special access to state-run COVID-19 tests: report

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A powerful drug company honcho with ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo was given special access to state-run COVID-19 tests during the onset of the coronavirus crisis last spring — when the swabs were nearly impossible to find, according to a report Thursday.

George Yancopoulos, president of the pharmaceutical firm Regeneron, was brought the tests by state officials after a “member of his household became infected with COVID-19,” according to the New York Times, which cited a company spokeswoman.

The tests were conducted at the home of Yancopoulos  — who has a history of investments backed by Cuomo and his family —  last March amid a statewide shutdown and panic over the then-widely-unknown virus, according to the paper.

In other cases, influential people were rushed by state troopers to the Wadsworth Center, a state-run lab in Albany, where workers were instructed to process the tests immediately, sources told the paper.

Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices in NYC.
Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices in NYC.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The preferential testing treatment was also allegedly extended to Cuomo’s family members, including his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, his mom, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters, it was revealed on Wednesday.

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Investigators in the New York State Assembly on Thursday said they are looking into who got special access to state-run coronavirus tests early in the pandemic, the paper reported.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine, chair of the judiciary committee, said lawmakers would probe the matter as part of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and hidden nursing home death data against Cuomo and his administration.

“Everything brought to the committee’s attention is going to be considered and investigated,” Lavine told the Times. “I will only say inquiries have been made. We’re paying attention to it and will act accordingly.”

The improper use of a government role in order for an official get “privileges or exemptions” for themselves or others is illegal under state law, the paper reported.

In April, Regeneron created 500,000 testing kits and provided them to the Empire State at no cost. It later played a key role in efforts to lower the risk of hospitalization and death among high-risk coronavirus patients.

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Ties between the Cuomo family and the firm have run deep for decades. Mario Cuomo, the governor’s father, invested $250,000 in Regeneron in 1991 when he was governor to support the firm. 

In 2018, the current administration granted the firm up to $140 million in incentives to expand its operations in the Albany area, the paper reported.

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A spokeswoman for the company said they requested the tests and that Yancopoulos was not involved in requesting them.

“Dr. Yancopoulos has directly led the company’s ambitious and successful efforts to advance a groundbreaking therapy for this devastating pandemic,” said the company spokeswoman, Hala Mirza.

“As an essential worker, leading and meeting regularly with his research team, and to ensure Dr. Yancopoulos was not posing a risk to this team, Regeneron requested testing from the state for his household after a household member became infected with Covid-19,” Mirza added.

A spokesman for Cuomo called the preferential treatment allegations “insincere, hypocritical efforts to rewrite the past.”

“In the early days of this pandemic, when there was a heavy emphasis on contact tracing, we were absolutely going above and beyond to get people tested,” Richard Azzopardi said. 

George Yancopoulos, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Co-Founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer, poses for a photograph on the company's Westchester campus in Tarrytown, New York.
According to the report, Yancopoulos had the COVID tests brought to his home.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The effort included “in some instances going to people’s homes” to identify cases and prevent others from falling ill, he said.

He added, “Among those we assisted were members of the general public, Democratic and Republican legislators, and reporters — including local and national reporters — state workers and their families, and those believed would be in direct contact with the governor.”

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