Data Used in Two Major COVID-19 Studies Deemed Questionable

Some critics have argued that data about the drug hydroxychloroquine could have been falsified by the corporation that provided it.
Chris Young

Serious concerns have been raised over the results of two influential medical journals on drugs used in coronavirus patients, including one about the controversial malaria treatment, hydroxychloroquine.

The New England Journal of Medicine, which published one of the studies, released a statement on Tuesday in which it said it had "asked the authors to provide evidence" that the data used in the studies are "reliable" after "substantive concerns [had] been raised about the quality of the information."


Two studies under the spotlight

The statement released by NEJM specifically referred to the first study to use the database, titled “Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in Covid-19”. The paper, published on May 1, suggested that widely used blood pressure medicines did not raise the risk of death for people with COVID-19.

The study used a database of health records from hundreds of hospitals around the world. The database, compiled by Chicago company Surgisphere Corp., was also used in an observational study of nearly 100,000 patients published in Lancet that linked the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to a higher risk of death in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

Following criticism from the scientific community about the validity of the Surgisphere Corp. database, including claims that it might have been falsified, Lancet also released a statement on Tuesday, saying it was aware "important scientific questions" had been raised. 

The hydroxychloroquine controversy

As CBS News reports, the Lancet report on hydroxychloroquine was influential because of its size, despite the fact that it was an observational study that gave no definitive answers. Following the publishing of the report, the World Health Organization said it would temporarily stop a study into the malaria drug, citing safety concerns, and France halted its use in hospitals.

Hydroxychloroquine — which was put forward as a potential treatment at the early stages of the pandemic — has been a focal point of President Donald Trump's controversial response to COVID-19 after the U.S. president promoted the drug and even took it himself, despite concerns about its safety and doubts about its effectiveness in treating coronavirus infection.

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Still no indication of hydroxychloroquine effectiveness

statement on the website of Surgisphere Corp site says it stands behind the "validity" of its database. It emphasizes that that corporation's "COVID-19 research was not funded by any drug company, private or public donor, or political organization" and emphasizes that it had "clearly outlined the limitations of an observational study."

"I had accepted the Lancet paper on its face," Dr. Eric Topol, a research methods expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego, told CBS News. Topol said he believed the paper because the journal and the lead author are highly regarded. He also cited the fact that the results were consistent with 13 other studies that have found no benefit from hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus.

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