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Authors retract hydroxychloroquine study that raised global concern about drug's use for coronavirus

Major COVID-19 studies retracted
Two major COVID-19 studies retracted after data inconsistencies 06:44

The authors of two major medical studies on coronavirus patients— including one that raised global concerns about the use of the hydroxychloroquine — retracted their papers on Thursday. The journals that published the studies said the authors were unable to get full access to the database behind their work to verify the raw data.

The Lancet retracted an influential paper published in May that claimed to analyze data from nearly 96,000 coronavirus patients in six continents. The study found those who took hydroxychloroquine showed increased heart rhythm problems and had a higher mortality rate than those who didn't take it.

The New England Journal of Medicine then retracted a study from the same authors, also published in May, that said it analyzed 8,910 COVID-19 patients. That study suggested that widely-used blood pressure medicines did not raise the risk of death for COVID-19 patients. 

The Lancet study influenced governments in several nations to ban the use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus, and also led to the suspension of some clinical trials of the drug's use, including tests overseen by the World Health Organization. 

The anti-malaria drug has been especially controversial in the United States, as President Trump touted it as a coronavirus treatment and even said he took it himself for about two weeks. Mr. Trump's promotion of the drug contradicted warnings from his own government health experts, who cautioned against its widespread use in the pandemic. 

Both of the now-retracted studies relied on data from Surgisphere Corporation, a Chicago-based data collection company. Dr. Sapan Desai, who owns the company, is one of four authors listed on the Lancet study.

The retractions said that after concerns were raised about the studies, Surgisphere would not provide the full datasets for an independent, third-party peer review. The authors concluded they could no longer stand behind the veracity of the data they used.

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

CBS News reached out to Surgisphere for comment. Before the retractions, as questions arose about the veracity of the studies, the company posted a statement on its website defending its practices and suggesting its "strong privacy standards" prevented it from sharing full data. 

This was not the only major study reporting that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective and potentially dangerous for coronavirus patients. Other studies, including another published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, have found that the drug failed to prevent coronavirus symptoms and may have been associated with heart problems or more deaths among patients.

The FDA in April published a warning that hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be a "safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19," and that the drug should only be used in clinical trials or under careful medical supervision with emergency authorization. 

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