USA

Company studying hydroxychloroquine employs sci-fi writer, adult content model

The World Health Organization and several world governments have changed their coronavirus policies and resumed trials of hydroxychloroquine because they got questionable data from a small US healthcare company — with a science fiction writer and an adult content model on staff.

The company, Surgisphere, whose employees include an unidentified sci-fi author and adult model doubling as a sales director, has produced data on multiple studies on COVID-19 co-authored by its chief executive — but has refused to adequately explain its data or methodology, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Data the Chicago-based company claims to have obtained from more than a thousand hospitals worldwide formed the basis of scientific articles that led to changes in coronavirus treatment policies in several countries.

The company, formed by Dr. Sapan Desai, a vascular surgeon in Springfield, Illinois, also influenced the decision by the WHO and other research facilities to halt trials of hydroxychloroquine, which President Trump has touted and took as a precaution against coronavirus.

The WHO announced Wednesday that those trials of the anti-malarial drug would now resume.

Two top medical journals – the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine – published studies based on Surgisphere data that raised concerns about potentially fatal side effects from hydroxychloroquine, reports that prompted researchers to abandon trials.

The Lancet on Tuesday released an “expression of concern” about its published study after inquiries from the UK news organization, and the New England Journal of Medicine offered a similar message.

An independent audit of the data has been commissioned by the authors not affiliated with Surgisphere because of “concerns that have been raised about the reliability of the database,” The Journal said.

The Guardian’s investigation revealed that a search of public records found that several of Surgisphere’s employees had little if any data or science background.

The paper also found that one employee listed as a science editor was apparently a science fiction author and fantasy artist, while another listed as a marketing executive was an adult model and events hostess.

The company’s LinkedIn page has fewer than 100 followers and last week listed just six employees — a number that was changed to three employees on Wednesday.

At a press conference Wednesday, the WHO announced it would now resume its global trial of hydroxychloroquine, after it determined there was no increased risk of death for Covid patients taking it.

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that all parts of the so-called Solidarity trial, which is investigating potential drug treatments, will go ahead.

“On the basis of the available mortality data, the members of the committee recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol,” said Tedros.

Director General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom GhebreyesusReuters

“The executive group received this recommendation and endorsed continuation of all arms of the Solidarity Trial, including hydroxychloroquine.”

Last month, the Lancet published a study that found that hydroxychloroquine was linked with a higher mortality rate in Covid-19 patients and increased heart problems.

The study, which listed Desai as one of the co-authors, claimed to have analyzed Surgisphere data collected from nearly 15,000 patients with COVID-19, admitted to 1,200 hospitals around the world, who received hydroxychloroquine itself as well as in combination with antibiotics.

The negative findings made global news and prompted the WHO to halt the hydroxychloroquine arm of its global trials.

But many of the hospitals that supposedly took part in the study questioned the data, which was contradicted by reports from Johns Hopkins University, which tracks worldwide cases.

The Guardian reached out to other hospitals who also contradicted the study’s data.

Desai did not immediately return a request for comment from The Post.

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