A study that cited worldwide hospital data to warn of higher risks of death and heart problems with taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus is now under scrutiny for faking data.
The hydroxychloroquine study, published in two of the world’s leading medical journals — the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine — used data from thousands of hospitals and tens of thousands of patients to conclude that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine treatments had no positive effects on Covid-19 patients and led to greater risks of health problems.
The findings caused the World Health Organization and other researchers to halt studies looking into the effectiveness of the antimalarial drugs as possible coronavirus treatments, and raised further criticism against the Trump administration, which has touted the drug as an effective treatment. Last month, President Trump said that he had completed a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against coronavirus.
But the studies were based on data from Surgisphere, a little-known U.S. company, whose employees have little or no data or scientific background, according to The Guardian. The company’s chief executive, Sapan Desai, who is listed as a coauthor of the Lancet study, said that his company was “not responsible for the source data,” explaining that the records of the nearly 100,000 patients used in the study were compiled by the respective hospitals, not his team.
But the claim contradicted that of QuartzClinical — the content management system Desai said Surgisphere employed — which stated on its website that it “successfully integrates your electronic health record, financial system, supply chain, and quality programs into one platform.”
Peter Ellis, the chief data scientist of Nous Group, an international management consultancy that does data integration projects for government departments, told The Guardian that Surgisphere’s database was “almost certainly a scam.”
“It is not something that any hospital could realistically do,” he explained. “De-identifying is not just a matter of knocking off the patients’ names, it is a big and difficult process. I doubt hospitals even have capability to do it appropriately. It is the sort of thing national statistics agencies have whole teams working on, for years.”
Following widespread scrutiny, both the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine released statements saying they have acknowledged the serious concerns and are looking into the source of the data.