A widely read study claiming the use of the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus leads to an increased risk of death has been retracted, the study’s publisher said Thursday.
The Lancet, the medical journal that published the original study in late May, said in a statement that they “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources,” and “due to this unfortunate development, the authors request that the paper be retracted.”
“We all entered this collaboration to contribute in good faith and at a time of great need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said. “We deeply apologise to you, the editors, and the journal readership for any embarrassment or inconvenience that this may have caused.”
In an important moment for science and data transparency, @thelancet announces that its 96,000 observational study on hydroxychloroquine has been RETRACTED.
— Jeremy Faust MD MS (@jeremyfaust) June 4, 2020
The study claimed to have found that there was no benefit from using hydroxychloroquine to treat patients with COVID-19, and that the drug “was associated with an increased hazard for clinically significant occurrence of ventricular arrhythmias and increased risk of in-hospital death with COVID-19.”
It found that patients who took the drug had a 34% increased chance of death and a 137% increased risk for heart arrhythmias, according to the Washington Post. (RELATED: CNN’s Cuomo Mocks Trump Over Hydroxychloroquine — A Version Of It Was Included In His Own COVID-19 Treatment)
The publication of the study had major consequences. Trials testing the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine stopped within days, including a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), Science Magazine reported.
Recently, concerns emerged when the company that supplied the hospital records for the study, Surgisphere, came under scrutiny for supplying questionable data. According to the Science Magazine report, researchers pointed out parts of the dataset that seemed impossible, like the number of patients used for the study, demographics of the patients, and doses of the drug the patients were allegedly given.
Nicholas White, a malaria researcher at Mahidol University in Bangkok, pointed out discrepancies in the data, like the fact that the doses of the drug given to patients were typically higher than the dose recommended by the FDA despite the majority of people in the study being treated in the United States. White also noted that the amount of data coming from Africa was higher than the amount of data the continent was expected to have in a computer system.
Red flags were also raised about the methods used by the researchers, according to the report. Matthew Semler, a critical care physician at Vanderbilt University, said that the study didn’t provide critical details, like whether or not the patients given hydroxychloroquine were already sicker than the patients who were not given the drug.
“If you have a physician sitting with two patients who have coronavirus, and the physician chooses to give one of them hydroxychloroquine, they’re doing it for a reason,” Semler said according to the report.
President Donald Trump announced he had been taking the drug on May 18.