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

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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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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Birthplace
Tucson, Arizona
Nationality
American
Honors/Awards
Graduated with Honors
Education
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Location
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith




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