For weeks Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 tennis player, has been at the center of a media storm since the Australian government canceled his visa after he had initially been granted a medical exemption to play even though he’s not vaccinated.
Djokovic’s anti-vaccine stance made him a hero in the anti-vaxxer community.
But on Wednesday, it emerged that Djokovic had in fact invested his own money in developing a “cure” for COVID-19, by investing in a Danish biotech company. While dozens of headlines echoed this claim, a quick look beneath the surface suggests that the company may not be all it appears.
According to Danish corporate filings, Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, who has also posted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 on her social media accounts, purchased an 80% stake in QuantBiores, a Danish company run by a Serbian named Ivan Loncarevic, back in June 2020.
Loncarevic, speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, said the company is developing a peptide, which inhibits the coronavirus from infecting a human cell. Loncarevic said the company expects to launch clinical trials in the UK this summer.
He stressed the firm was working on a treatment, not a vaccine.
But according to scientists who have reviewed the company’s website, which hasn’t been updated since July 2020, there are numerous errors and inconsistencies in the claims that the company makes, raising concerns about what exactly QuantBioRes is working on.
Several scientists on social media have pointed out that in several places on the website, QuantBioRes states that the coronavirus is a retrovirus. “They aren’t,” Thomas Lunley, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Auckland tweeted.
The company claims that it is using a non-traditional technique called Resonant Recognition Model (RRM), by which electromagnetic frequencies can supposedly target proteins in cells and could be used to inhibit the RNA replication process of COVID-19 in humans.
But Darren Saunders, an associate professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales tweeted on Thursday: “This isn’t how biochemistry works.”
“So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Novak’s ‘biotech company’ is working on homeopathy as a cure for COVID,” Saunders added.
“The approach described on the QuantBioRes website doesn’t reflect contemporary understanding of biochemistry, and I can find no convincing evidence that their method is able to produce effective peptides,” Saunders told VICE News. “They also incorrectly state that coronavirus is a retrovirus. So it’s highly unlikely this approach will lead to a successful treatment for COVID-19.”
In an email to VICE News, Loncarevic said he and Djokovic were not “anti-vaxxers,” and dismissed Saunders’ criticism, saying he “does not know anything about our work. We are definitely not using any homeopathic approach.” The CEO admitted that the company “does not use a classical biochemical approach” but claimed “that is why we are innovative.”
He also said that “there is no way you get a permit to conduct clinical trials, if pre-clinical tests are not well documented.”
Danish scientist Hiren Joshi also raised concerns about QuantBioRes, pointing out that a paper explaining how RRM technology could be used to find a cure for COVID-19 was published in the journal MPDI. The publisher of academic papers has a long history of publishing controversial papers, including one in 2021 that concluded that COVID-19 vaccines showed a “lack of clear benefit.” The article was widely criticized for misusing data to reach a false conclusion and was ultimately retracted.
Loncarevic was one of the authors of the paper on RRM technology, along with Irena Cosic, another Serbian who has been the lead researcher into RRM technology, which she first wrote about in 1994. Cosic didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News about her research and links to Loncarevic. MDPI did not respond to a request for comment about the validity of the paper.
Loncarevic told Reuters the company has 11 researchers working in Denmark, Australia, and Slovenia, but Joshi points out that QuantBioRes’s listed headquarters appears to be an apartment block in the Soborg suburb of Copenhagen.
Loncarevic, who is originally from Djokovic’s hometown of Belgrade, appears to be in lockstep with his largest shareholder when it comes to his opinion of the threat posed by COVID-19.
A review of Loncarevic’s Facebook pages shows him sharing a lot of COVID-19 misinformation, and many of the posts have been blocked or labeled by the social network for containing misleading information.
He also coauthored a paper published in January 2021 that supported the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19. The anti-parasitic drug, which is effective for a variety of conditions in humans and animals, continues to be studied as a possible treatment for COVID, but to date has no proven use in treating or preventing COVID-19.
Neither Loncarevic nor QuantBioRes responded to VICE News’ request for comment about the criticisms leveled at the company. Djokovic, who is also facing a ban from the French Open later this year, did not recound to VICE News’ request for comment on his investment.
Djokovic and his wife made the investment in QuantResBio in June 2020, the same month the pair were among a number of people to contract COVID-19 at a tournament the tennis star hosted in Serbia and Croatia, where no social distancing and no mask wearing was required, even though the pandemic was at that point beginning to overwhelm healthcare systems across the globe.
While Djokovic has never publicly stated whether or not he is vaccinated, he has publicly declared that he is “opposed to vaccination” and has boosted a number of increasingly wild conspiracies, including the claim that water’s molecular structure can be altered by human thoughts.
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This story has been updated to reflect comments from Ivan Loncarevic.