The World Health Organization (WHO) resumed on Wednesday a study looking into whether the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could be effective in treating COVID-19, after those running the study briefly stopped giving it to new patients over health concerns.
The UN agency last month paused the part of its large study of treatments against COVID-19 in which newly enrolled patients were getting the anti-malarial drug to treat COVID-19 due to fears it increased death rates and irregular heartbeats.
The study continued with other medicines.
But the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said its experts had advised the continuation of all trials including hydroxychloroquine, whose highest-profile backer for use against the coronavirus is US President Donald Trump.
On Thursday, the authors of a medical journal article that found hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death in COVID-19 patients retracted it, citing concerns about the quality and veracity of data in the study.
The anti-malarial drug has been controversial in part due to support from Trump, as well as implications of the study published in British medical journal the Lancet last month, which led several COVID-19 studies to be halted.
The three authors said Surgisphere, the company that provided the data, would not transfer the dataset for an independent review and that they “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources.”
The fourth author of the study, Dr. Sapan Desai, the chief executive of Surgisphere, declined to comment on the retraction.
“When you have reputable journals that put this kind of work out and are retracted 10 days later, it just increases mistrust,” said Dr. Walid Gellad, a professor at University of Pittsburgh’s medical school. “It just adds fuel to the fire of this controversy around hydroxychloroquine ... It’s the last thing we needed with this particular drug.”
Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that relied on Surgisphere data and shared the same lead author, Harvard Medical School Professor Mandeep Mehra, was also retracted for the same reason.