The Lancet, one of the world’s top medical journals, on Thursday retracted an influential study that raised alarms about the safety of the experimental Covid-19 treatments chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine amid scrutiny of the data underlying the paper.

Just over an hour later, the New England Journal of Medicine retracted a separate study, focused on blood pressure medications in Covid-19, that relied on data from the same company.

The retractions came at the request of the authors of the studies, published last month, who were not directly involved with the data collection and sources, the journals said.

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“We can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources,” Mandeep Mehra of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Frank Ruschitzka of University Hospital Zurich, and Amit Patel of University of Utah said in a statement issued by the Lancet. “Due to this unfortunate development, the authors request that the paper be retracted.”

The retraction of the Lancet paper is sure to add fuel to contentious arguments about the potential of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two old malaria drugs, in Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. President Trump has touted them as valuable treatments, despite a lack of rigorous data showing they have a benefit.

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Meanwhile, on Wednesday, researchers reported the results of the first gold-standard clinical trial of hydroxycholoroquine in Covid-19, concluding that it did not prevent infections any better than placebo. Other clinical trials, including some looking at the drugs as treatments, are ongoing.

The Lancet study gained so much attention because it went further than other observational studies that had similarly found the drugs were not associated with improved outcomes for patients. The study, which was purportedly based on patient data from 671 hospitals on six continents, reported the drugs also corresponded to higher mortality.

The findings led to the pause of some global clinical trials studying hydroxychloroquine so researchers could check for any safety concerns. Outside experts, however, quickly raised concerns after noticing inconsistencies in the data. They asked the company that compiled and analyzed the data, Surgisphere, to explain how it sourced its data.

As scrutiny grew, the authors on the paper not affiliated with Surgisphere called for an independent audit. In their Lancet statement Thursday, they said that Surgisphere was not cooperating with the independent reviewers and would not provide the data.

“As such, our reviewers were not able to conduct an independent and private peer review and therefore notified us of their withdrawal from the peer-review process,” the researchers wrote.

Outside experts raised similar concerns about the New England Journal study, which found that the blood pressure medications were safe to take for people with Covid-19. It was also based on data from Surgisphere.

In the New England Journal retraction statement, the study authors wrote, “Because all the authors were not granted access to the raw data and the raw data could not be made available to a third-party auditor, we are unable to validate the primary data sources underlying our article.” They apologized “for the difficulties that this has caused.”

Concerns about the health risks of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were based on evidence beyond the Lancet paper. Earlier, the Food and Drug Administration warned the drugs should not be used in Covid-19 outside a clinical trial or beyond hospitalized patients because of the risks to heart health.

The drugs are safe for people to take for malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, for whom they are shown to have benefits, experts stress.

  • Soooooo – what are we gonna do with the “believe the scientists ” mantra???

    • Yes, you’re right, this unfortunate lapse of credibility for the scientific method clearly proves beyond doubt that any science-based inference that has not been blessed by Right wing ultra conservatives can now be totally ignored. Although Fox News believers will just create “alternative facts” that suit their bizarre political agendas anyway. If the facts don’t fit a right wing political agenda, create new facts. Or keep using alternative facts that are at least politically correct.
      Science is not driven by political belief systems, although we all admit it is influenced by it.

  • They got caught this time, and the editors at The Lancet went into full CYA mode. Such a respectable journal. Not so “respectable” anymore. Like Scientific American and so many other formerly fine journals of science and medicine, they’ve gone “woke” and become throughly politicized. Credibility all gone. Now it’s just another leftist publication that only occasionally stumbles upon the truth, and then only when it aligns with editorial biases that always, always, advance “the agenda,” which in this case is “Destroy Trump.”

    • so…any publication that contradicts Trump loses all credibility because its only goal is to contradict Trump. Since Trump constantly contradicts himself, does Trump also lose all credibility?

    • Dear, by claiming Scientific American was/is a fine journals of science and medicine betrays your hilarious lack of scientific knowledge and you should bar yourself from any future comment. SA is/was, and it has always been, just a reader’s digest of scientific news. Like a peewee league game compared to a MBL game. And science is a process, not a biblical immutable truth. And the retraction is on methodology and not on the merit that HCQ doesn’t have any therapeutic benefit

  • All articles must be properly reviewed before publication to avoid misleading information, confusion and choas. This is particularly important because of the developing nations where reasearch activities are limited and health workers depend on reports of international journals.

  • I hope the next would be retraction by some of these journals articles on the less than optimal efficacy data of remdesivir!

  • Incredible times we live in. The American left’s desire for power stops from nothing. Just because Donald Trump mentions hydroxychloroquine as one potential anti-viral remedy for COVID-19, the media keeps producing negative “studies” about this drug.

    As first reported in a Guardian investigation, Surgisphere, whose employees appear to include a sci-fi writer and adult content model (they used to call them pornstars), provided database behind Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine hydroxychloroquine studies.

    The World Health Organization and a number of national governments have subsequently changed their Covid-19 policies and treatments on the basis of flawed data from this little-known US healthcare analytics company, also calling into question the integrity of key studies published in some of the world’s most prestigious medical journals.

    Simply incredible.

  • I spent three hours today prior to the retractions of the studies trying to verify things. I called The company that supplied the data, Surgisphere, and found out that the phone number listed on their website was a paid offsite receptionist service. I then had a friend visit the address listed on the website and he found out that it was a front to provide a mailing address for multiple corporations and in fact the company had no offices there. I then called the largest electronic medical record Company in America, a company that would’ve had to be involved in such a large database. They told me categorically that they did no business with Surgisphere. So in three hours time I was able to prove the company basically did not exist and all their data was made up. Why couldn’t the authors of the study have done the same ?

    • Thanks Gary and Steve -the PI, lead ‘Author’, is responsible for the data integrity/quality and anything else related to the study + the Reviewers and Editors needs to make sure that the peer-review process is not biased, or like in this case, politically motivated. I agree with Gary, this is a sad day for the advancement of science and medicine.

  • Besides the data issue(s), Lancet and NEJM need to explain why these ‘studies’ which had serious methodological issues (e.g. multiple comparisons were performed but not accounted in the analyses) were published to begin with.

    • Thank you Giovanni. How can we possibly believe any data from any peer review journal at all when such fraudulent data, supposedly peer reviewed by editors, is published in such prestigious journals as a New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet? This is a sad day for the advancement Of science and medicine.

  • So this is what our country has come to? The supposedly “prestigious” Lancet AND the New England Journal of Medicine BOTH retract false “studies” about Hydor Chlor… Unbelievable if it weren’t so predictable. I would be put easily “even money” on the fact that if Trump had not touted it this would NEVER have happened. What does it take for us all to realize that virtually everything we see and hear from our sources of information is sadly and even more sadly not reliable. We are living in the era of Orwellian fiction as truth and truth as fiction. We are on our own for knowledge.

    • Of course it would never have happened if Trump had not touted it. If Trump had not touted it, thousands of people would not have taken it, exposing themselves to the risk of potentially serious, potentially fatal side effects, for no benefit, and drying up the supply of the drugs so people whose lives depended on it couldn’t get it. That’s why all these studies of the drug suddenly had to be done, and so many people have had to spend time and money doing them instead of working on things that might actually have helped. Trump distrusts experts and scientists and has nothing but disdain for people who know more than he does about anything (which is pretty much everyone), contradicts the scientists and public health experts who have extensive knowledge and deep experience fighting epidemics, touts things he dreams up out of nowhere, hears about on TV, or pulls out of his gastrointestinal tract, misleads the public, and turns any semblance of a coherent national response to the pandemic into a train wreck. People were so desperate for coherent information about the epidemic, and so relieved and excited to hear it, that a 70-year old man was suddenly deemed “the sexiest man in America.” Naturally, of course, Trump shut him down in a heartbeat and we haven’t heard from him since. Anyone who isn’t opposed to Trump is working toward the destruction of our democracy, our country, and our planet. And is succeeding.

  • I posted the following on May 23 when I first saw the article:
    “I’m as skeptical of this oxymoron “consensus science” as I am of Global Warming and Pharmaceutical research funded by those with their agendas and desired outcomes of their “studies” to hide the truth with the guise of science. I’m so dismayed by what “science” has become that I have to preface it that way before telling people that I am a scientist. This report reeks of political agenda.”
    But, the FAKE NEWS KSL.com rejected it and posted mainly the NEVER TRUMPER comments!

  • There appears to be more to this than meets the eye.
    Who was to gain by negative results about Hydroxycholorquine? Clearly those who are critical of Pres Trump would feel vindicated. But financially, the companies making other more expensive COVID drugs would benefit by having the inexpensive Hydrochloroquine out of the way. It may be totally irrelevant, but two of the Lancet authors have last names that are the same as staff at Gilead, the makers of Resdesivir – I hope there is no family link and no conflict of interest. The WHO was also very quick to halt the hydroxychloroquine arm – what was the decision making there? Richard Horton, the Editor of Lancet, is highly critical of Pres Trump – is there are conflict there or among the NEJM editors? How was the peer review process conducted for these papers. Also, why is Zinc not mentioned as part of hydroxychloroquine when the evidence suggests hydroxychloroquine acts partly as an ionophore to all zinc to have an antiviral effect. Just a few questions.

    • Raymond: We have to accept that even at places where we would “imagine” complete dispassionate reliability as to information, that the emotional infection of political partisanship has overcome even those institutions where rational thought is completely essential. Another tragedy for us to face.

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