New Delhi, June 5: Hydroxychloroquine is back in focus, days after being discarded by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Earlier this week, the global health body announced the resumption of trials using the anti-malarial drug to find a cure for COVID-19. Behind WHO's decision to re-start the HCQ trials, involves a trail of dubious research by a medical firm whose employees include an "adult content model" and a "science fiction writer".

Surgisphere Corporation, a lesser-known health analytics company based in United States, was behind the research published in The Lancet which compelled the WHO to retract HCQ from the list of potential anti-coronavirus drugs. Several other countries were also compelled to change their policy over the drug, which has been called as "game-changer" by US President Donald Trump.

The study, titled "Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis", was published in The Lancet on May 22. In terms of size, it was being touted as the most credible with data accessed of around 96,000 patients from 671 hospitals.

The research claimed that HCQ was administered on the patients was found ineffective in treating COVID-19 or reducing the mortality rate. The conclusion came in backdrop of smaller-size studies published in some journals including the New England Medical Journal which suggested that HCQ was not only ineffective, but also posed a risk for heart patients.

The WHO, in the past week, announced the unprecedented decision of halting HCQ trials citing the study of Surgisphere published in The Lancet. The research, however, was put under scrutiny by The Guardian as it found discrepancies in the data collected by Surgisphere from Australia.

Sapan Desai, an American surgeon and head of Surgisphere, who has co-authored the controversial study, claimed that data accessed from five hospitals showed 73 deaths and 600 COVID-19 cases till April 21. However, Australia had only recorded 67 deaths by the said date, as per the John Hopkins University.

A further scrutiny of the research found similar anomalies in the data which Surgisphere claimed to had obtained. After taking cognisance of the lack of credibility in the research, Lancet issued a statement announced that the study has been retracted from the journal. It further called for an investigation into the research collaborations of Surgisphere.

"The Lancet takes issues of scientific integrity extremely seriously, and there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study. Following guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), institutional reviews of Surgisphere’s research collaborations are urgently needed," said a statement issued by the top medical journal.

The LinkedIn page of Surgisphere shows the company has only 11 employees, of whom five are present on the networking site. According to reports, most of the employees were recruited two months ago. The adult content model, whose identity was yet to be revealed in the reports, is stated to be a full-time writer. Another employee who is part of the research group is a science fiction writer.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Jun 05, 2020 05:08 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website