In a major development, The Lancet – one of the world’s leading medical journals, on Thursday retracted a controversial study it had earlier published on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus because of several discrepancies in the research data.
According to the reports, the lead author of the research paper, Prof Mandeep Mehra, from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts had asked the Lancet to withdraw the study after they could no longer vouch for the data’s accuracy.
“Today, three of the authors have retracted “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis”,” the Lancet published a retraction for its earlier studies.
The researchers, who had published their study in Lancet, had worked with a dubious health care analytics company named Surgisphere, on the study.
“After the publication of our Lancet article, several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analyses conducted by Surgisphere Corporation,” the study authors wrote in their retraction.
The Lancet, in its statement, said that they have launched an independent third-party peer review of Surgisphere with the consent of its CEO Sapan Desai to evaluate the origination of the database elements, to confirm the completeness of the database, and to replicate the analyses presented in the paper.
It also stated that Surgisphere could not provide them with the full dataset, client contacts and ISO audit report citing ‘confidentiality’. It is notable here that Sapan Desai, the Surgisphere CEO who had co-authored the now-debunked Lancet article, already has three malpractice suits pending against him, as reported by The Guardian.
It is notable here that Surgisphere’s CEO Sapan Desai was one of the co-authors of the now retracted Lancet article that had led the WHO and several Latin American nations to halt their ongoing trials using Hydroxychloroquine.
Similarly, the New England Journal of Medicine retracted a separate study, focused on blood pressure medications in coronavirus that relied on data from the same company – Surgisphere.
Lancet based their article on fake data provided by a dubious company
We had reported yesterday regarding a Chicago-based little-known company ‘Surgisphere’ and how the dubious data developed by them was used as a basis to publish studies in The Lancet and also New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s two most highly-cited medical journals, to halt the trials of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of coronavirus.
The discrepancies in two influential studies of these journals over the efficacy of the effect of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine on coronavirus patients were later picked up by World Health Organization and a number of national governments to alter their response.
Based on the data given by the Surgisphere, the Lancet, on 22 May, had published a study which declared that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine was associated with a higher mortality rate in coronavirus.
The Lancet study, to which Desai was one of the co-authors, claimed to have collected and studied Surgisphere data collected from nearly 15,000 coronavirus patients from 1,200 hospitals around the world, who received hydroxychloroquine alone or in combination with antibiotics.
The claims by the Lancet study were soon taken seriously worldwide. Many media portals touted it and since US President Trump had emphasised on Hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, there was probably a sudden urgency to dismiss it.
Many large randomised trials of the drug were halted. And within days, the WHO, which was conducting a mega trial, halted it too.
Investigations revealed the data was fake
However, an investigation by the Guardian had revealed that the employees at Surgisphere have little or no data or scientific background. An employee listed as a ‘science editor’ appeared to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist. Another employee listed as a marketing executive in an adult content model and events hostess.
Most importantly, glaring errors in the study were soon pointed out by many researchers. When Guardian Australia contacted five hospitals in Melbourne and two in Sydney, they denied any role and even stated that they have never been contacted by Surgisphere or have contributed data to its study in any way. The number of deaths mentioned in Australia due to COVID-19 also did not match the actual Australian database.
These revelations had raised eyebrows over the integrity of such key studies published by these ‘renowned’ medical journals.
The dubious company had provided data for multiple studies on coronavirus, which was co-authored by the company’s chief executive, one Sapan Desai along with Mandeep Mehra.