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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Lancet flags study that paused WHO trial of HCQ for virus cure

The ‘expression of concern’ was issued following several concerns being raised over Surgisphere’s dataset

The flip-flop over hydroxychloroquine continued on Wednesday with The Lancet issuing an “expression of concern" about a study that prompted the World Health Organization to halt tests with the anti-malaria drug over claims that it risked the lives of covid-19 patients.

The ‘expression of concern’, which was meant to alert readers about the integrity of the paper, was issued after several scientific questions were raised about data supplied by a company called Surgisphere.

“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," The Lancet’s editors said.

The large-scale study, published on 22 May, said that hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with certain types of antibiotics, reduced the chances of in-hospital survival for covid-19 patients as it increases the risk of cardiac arrest.

The publication prompted the WHO to temporarily halt the solidarity trial for the repurposed anti-malaria drug, subject to a review of the collected data, which, in turn, drew criticism from India, where companies had ramped hydroxychloroquine production.

Hydroxychloroquine, and its older form chloroquine, are widely used in India for treating malaria, which prompted the Indian Council of Medical Research to defend its use for covid-19 amid safety concerns. The ICMR has been providing a weekly dose of hydroxychloroquine to its healthcare workers treating covid-19, as prophylaxis, or as a preventive measure.

Indian pharmaceutical companies Ipca Laboratories and Zydus Cadila Ltd are also two of the world’s largest manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine, and the hype surrounding the repurposed drug led the two companies to scale up production to allow for sufficient inventories for both the domestic market and exports.

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