WHO Altered COVID Policy, Halted HCQ Trials Based on Suspect Data from Tiny Company

The World Health Organization and a number of other governments changed COVID-19 policies and treatments based on “flawed” data from a U.S. health care analytics company, according to a report from The Guardian.

The Guardian’s investigation revealed that U.S. based Surgisphere has provided data for coronavirus studies, but has been unable to adequately explain how it got the data or its methodology.

In particular, a May 22 study posted in The Lancet used data from Surgisphere to conclude that coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine were more likely to die in the hospital, Science reported.

This specific study was important because President Donald Trump has touted the anti-malarial drug as a potentially promising treatment for COVID-19.

Within days of study’s publication, randomized trials of hydroxychloroquine came to a stop, including part of the WHO’s trial of potential COVID-19 treatments.

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In the midst of scrutiny into Surgisphere’s data, The Lancet released an “expression of concern” on Tuesday about its study, which states that “[i]mportant scientific questions have been raised about data reported in the paper” and “an independent audit of the provenance and validity of the data has been commissioned by the authors not affiliated with Surgisphere and is ongoing.”

Among the concerns were the large number of patients involved and the provided details about their demographics and dosages that seemed implausible.

“It began to stretch and stretch and stretch credulity,” Nicolas White, a malaria researcher at Mahidol University in Bangkok, told Science.

The New England Journal of Medicine also published a study based on Surgisphere’s data and issued a similar expression of concern.

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“Recently, substantive concerns have been raised about the quality of the information in that database,” the statement read.

“We have asked the authors to provide evidence that the data are reliable.”

Surgisphere founder and CEO Sapan Desai told Science through a spokesperson that he was arranging to provide the authors of the NEJM paper with the data access it has requested.

The Guardian found other concerning aspects of the company, beyond the data it provided the different scientific studies.

The publication found that several of the company’s employees have little or no data or scientific background. These employees include a science editor who appears to be a science fiction author and a marketing executive who appears to be an adult-content model.

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The company’s LinkedIn page also listed only three employees as of Wednesday afternoon.

Surgisphere says it is one of the largest and fastest hospital databases in the world but appears to have no online presence. The Guardian reported its Twitter account has fewer than 170 followers and until March, hadn’t posted since October 2017.

The company’s founder has also been named in three medical malpractice suits, unrelated to the company’s database.

After reviewing available data on hydroxychloroquine, the WHO announced it would resume its study into the drug in a media conference on Wednesday, CNBC reported.

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