A leading medical journal on Thursday retracted a prominent report that halted global trials of controversial anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in the race to develop a treatment for the coronavirus.
The Lancet, which published the influential study that prompted concerns of the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, walked back its publishing of the study, citing inconsistencies in the data.
“This is a shocking example of research misconduct in the middle of a global health emergency,” the journal’s editor, Richard Horton, told The Guardian, which discovered several data inconsistencies with the report.
According to the publication, the study’s lead author, professor Mandeep Mehra of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, requested the retraction after he announced he could no longer vouch for the accuracy of the data cited in the study.
An independent audit by Surgisphere found that some patients were inaccurately located. But as the Guardian further examined the alleged inaccuracies, they found that the U.S.-based company employed staff that included a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, according to the publication. It also noted that Surgisphere failed to “adequately explain its data or methodology.”
“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,” Mr. Mehra said in a statement Thursday.
“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 Lancet study had a noted influence on a series of efforts in the race to discover a coronavirus treatment using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine — most commonly used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The World Health Organization suspended the testing of hydroxychloroquine in coronavirus vaccine tests after studies showed those who were taking the drug were at higher risk of death and heart problems than those that were not. Several European countries quickly followed suit in halting such testing after the WHO announced the pause.
President Trump revealed last month that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine, which he once touted as a promising treatment for the coronavirus despite the lack of clinical proof beyond the Lancet study. He has since stopped taking the drug.
The Food and Drug Administration cautioned people not to use hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital or clinical trial, and the Department of Veterans Affairs found coronavirus patients who took the drug fared worse than those who didn’t.