First, the esteemed Lancet medical journal retracted a major study on Thursday about hydroxychloroquine. Then, the New England Journal of Medicine did the same with another big study related to COVID-19 and blood pressure drugs. Both retractions have a common denominator: They relied on data supplied by a US analytics company called Surgisphere, which is coming under increasing scrutiny over the credibility of its international database. The Lancet study had cast doubt on the effectiveness of the anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a coronavirus treatment, reports the Wall Street Journal. The retraction is now renewing the hope that the drugs (highly touted by President Trump) can work safely after all, and the World Health Organization already has said it would resume trials, notes the New York Times.
"It is now clear to me that in my hope to contribute to this research during a time of great need, I did not do enough to ensure that the data source was appropriate for this use," says Harvard's Mandeep Mehra, who was the lead author of both studies. "For that, and for all the disruptions—both directly and indirectly—I am truly sorry." Both studies listed as a co-author Surgisphere founder/CEO Sapan Desai, whose name appears only on the NEMJ retraction. His company claims to have collected patient data from hospitals all over the world, but now red flags are going up. The Journal, for instance, got in touch with a dozen big US hospitals, and none shared patient data with the company. Surgisphere previously said it couldn't name the 671 hospitals in the Lancet study out of privacy concerns. The controversy illustrates the rushed state of research amid the pandemic, notes the Times. (Read more hydroxychloroquine stories.)