Surgisphere's Hydroxychloroquine Data Under Intense Scrutiny

Clinicians and researchers have questioned the likelihood of assembling the quantity of data supplied by Surgisphere on hydroxychloroquine in such a short period of time.

Updated 5 PM on June 4.

Investigators who recently published data on hydroxychloroquine in The Lancet have issued a retraction.

The retraction comes as it appears that the data motivating the suspension was derived from a potentially unreliable source. Surgisphere Corporation, an Illinois based company which owns the dataset behind the study published in The Lancet as well as a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, has been subject to scrutiny in recent days as clinicians and researchers challenge the likelihood of assembling the amount of data supplied by the firm in such a short period of time.

"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. 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," Lancet authors wrote.

The New England Journal of Medicine authors have published a retraction as well:

"Because all the authors were not granted access to the raw data and the raw data could not be made available to a third-party auditor, we are unable to validate the primary data sources underlying our article, “Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in Covid-19.”1 We therefore request that the article be retracted. We apologize to the editors and to readers of the Journal for the difficulties that this has caused."

The Lancet previously published a statement of concern on the matter.

“Although an independent audit of the provenance and validity of the data has been commissioned by the authors not affiliated with Surgisphere and is ongoing, with results expected very shortly, we are issuing an Expression of Concern to alert readers to the fact that serious scientific questions have been brought to our attention. We will update this notice as soon as we have further information.”

The New England Journal of Medicine also expressed concern over the publications earlier:

“Recently, substantive concerns have been raised about the quality of the information in that database,” writes NEJM editor-in-chief Eric Rubin in the expression of concern. “We have asked the authors to provide evidence that the data are reliable. In the interim and for the benefit of our readers, we are publishing this Expression of Concern about the reliability of their conclusions.”

Thus far, Surgisphere CEO and founder Sapan Desai has not released the names of any hospitals involved in providing the data, citing privacy agreements.

"We all entered this collaboration to contribute in good faith and at a time of great need during the COVID-19 pandemic. We deeply apologise to you, the editors, and the journal readership for any embarrassment or inconvenience that this may have caused," the Lancet authors said in their retraction.