Scientists Question Study Linking Malaria Drugs to Covid Risks

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Scientists are raising questions about a study that linked antimalarial drugs to increased heart risks and death among Covid-19 patients.

The study, published last week in The Lancet medical journal, found high rates of dangerousside effects in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. A group of some 120 researchers signed aletter pointing out inconsistencies, calling on the authors and The Lancet to reveal more details about their analysis.

Backed by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said he took a course of hydroxychloroquine to ward off the virus, the drugs have become a political and medical bone of contention. A separate scientific article that had lent support to using them against the coronavirus was withdrawn by its authors last week because of the controversy.

Not long after The Lancet study was published, the World Health Organizationsuspended a portion of a global study of potential Covid-19 treatments that included the antimalaria drugs because of safety concerns. Regulators in the U.K. and France called for a halt to trials.

The Lancetstudy, led by Mandeep Mehra of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, looked at the medical records of 96,000 coronavirus patients around the world, about 15,000 of whom were treated with antimalarials. Some of the patients also received antibiotics that are thought to enhance the benefit of the antimalarial drugs.

High Doses

The letter pointed out 14 major shortcomings in the paper, including that computer code used to analyze the data wasn’t made public, and that no information was included on the medical centers that contributed data. It also said that rates of deaths reported from Africa seemed “unlikely,” that the daily doses purportedly received by some U.S. patients appeared higher than recommended, and that the level of chloroquine use in some continents was “implausible.”

The letter called on the U.S. company holding the data for the study, Chicago-basedSurgisphere, to provide greater detail, and for an independent evaluation of the analysis. When scientists asked to see more of the data, according to the letter, Mehra replied that the authors weren’t able to share it under agreements with countries, governments and hospitals.

Surgisphere addressed the building controversy in a statement on its website before the scientists sent their letter Thursday. The company said it works with top-tier institutions “that have a tertiary care level of practice and provide quality healthcare that is relatively homogenous around the world. As with most corporations, the access to individual hospital data is strictly governed.”

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