scammed?

Influential hydroxychloroquine data came from a small U.S. company that is allegedly 'almost certainly a scam'

June 3, 2020
GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

The legitimacy of the company Surgisphere, which provided global policy-altering coronavirus data, has been called into question, The Guardian reports after conducting an investigation into the little-known U.S. healthcare analytics firm.

Several governments in Latin America changed their COVID-19 treatment policies based on data Surgisphere claims it obtained from more than a thousand hospitals across the world, and the World Health Organization halted its trials of the controversial malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has been touted by President Trump, for the same reason. There are still many concerns about hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness and safety among the scientific and medical communities, but there's simultaneously growing skepticism about studies that involved Surgisphere's data.

Two of the world's leading medical journals, The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, are now expressing concern about the reliability of the data used in hydroxychloroquine studies they published, which found the drug was associated with a higher mortality rate among COVID-19 patients. And The Guardian reports seven hospitals in Australia that were included in Surgisphere's database said they had never even heard of the company, let alone cooperated in its data collection.

The Guardian's investigation also reveals several of Surgisphere's employees have little or no scientific background (one "science editor" appears to be a science fiction author), the company has a limited online presence and lacks a way for hospitals to get in touch and provide data, and its chief executive, Sapan Desai, has been named in three medical malpractice suits. Desai denies the company is illegitimate, but Peter Ellis, the chief data scientist of the international management consulting firm Nous Group, told The Guardian that Surgisphere is "almost certainly a scam." Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell