There has been a lot of debate over the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past month. While several nations have advocated it, there is no scientific proof to show that it cures coronavirus
There has been a lot of debate over the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past month. While several nations have advocated it, there is no scientific proof to show that it cures coronavirus
Photo Credit: AFP

The authors of a controversial study published in The Lancet journal linking the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine with increased death risk in COVID-19 patients, have retracted their research paper, after they could no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources used in their analysis.

It was soon followed by the withdrawal of another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggested that underlying heart disease is associated with an increased risk of death among patients hospitalised with COVID-19.

"Today, three of the authors of the paper, "Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis", have retracted their study," The Lancet journal noted in a statement.

Dr Mandeep R Mehra, a scientist at Harvard in his clarification in Lancet wrote, “After publication of our Lancet Article, several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analyses conducted by Surgisphere Corporation and its founder and our co-author, Sapan Desai, in our publication. We launched an independent third- party peer review of Surgisphere with the consent of 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.

“Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full ISO audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements. 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.”

You can read the full statement here.

Following the statement, the World Health Organisation announced that it would resume coronavirus trials of hydroxychloroquine. The organisation had temporarily suspended trials after the paper came out in the last week of May.

Notably, Dr Sapan A Desai, an MD and PhD from the University of Chicago and the brainchild behind Surgisphere is the author both papers – the one published in Lancet and the one published in New England Journal of Medicine. Surgisphere, too has defended its stance on its website, pledging transparency, and says it is working to address all questions about the data it provided.

Who is Surgisphere?

Founded in 2008, Surgispehere was one of the three companies started by Dr Desai. The other two are QuartzClinical and ClinicalReview. QuartzClinical and ClinicalReview, which were started by Desai, claim to be dara-based sites, but there is no way you can get in touch with anyone unless you fill out an auto form

Although Surgisphere was started in 2008, its website has only started putting out content since April last year.

HCQ, Modi and Trump: The curious case of the Lancet paper written by a small US company that made waves

Furthermore, the about us section reads, "When Dr. Sapan Desai founded Surgisphere Corporation, the mission was simple: to harness the power of data analytics and improve the lives of as many people as possible. Over the last decade, that unifying mission has led both Dr. Desai and the entire Surgisphere team to relentlessly pursue advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data with the intention of developing industry-leading tools that empower healthcare providers to make better, faster, and more accurate decisions."

However, there is no mention of any team member or how to get in touch with anybody for queries and tie-ups. If you click on the Contact Us section redirects you to the Research Proposal, showing that Dr Desai and his team are in no mood to answer any questions.

A report in the Guardian further shows that there is more to Surgisphere that meets the eye. The report, which was published on June 4, 2020, claims that one of the employees on their payroll, who is listed as a ‘Scoence Editor’ appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist whose professional profile suggests writing is her full-time job.

HCQ, Modi and Trump: The curious case of the Lancet paper written by a small US company that made waves

“Another employee listed as a marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess, who also acts in videos for organisations,” the report added.

Free Press Journal also cross-checked The Guardian report, and found that the ‘Scoence Editor’ has since restricted her profile.

There have been more doubts, given that although the company claims it has partnered with 10,000-plus hospitals and has it on its database, there is no mention of the partner hospitals, which has intensified the scepticism with regard to Desai and his team.

Surgisphere currently has 515 Twitter followers, with the last tweet posted on May 25, the day the paper was published in The Lancet. The organisation had not posted between October 2017 and March 2020.

HCQ, Modi and Trump: The curious case of the Lancet paper written by a small US company that made waves
The first tweet put out after three years
The first tweet put out after three years

Hydroxychloroquine has been in the news for the past few months ever since it was announced that the Indian government would export it to the United States, the United Kingdom and SAARC countries, just to name a few. While a number of nations have propagated and promoted its use in the treatment of coronavirus, there is no scientific proof that shows that the drug, which is usually used to treat malaria, is the one-stop cure for coronavirus.

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