It’s hardly newsworthy that medical science is distorted by money. But last week, a case arose that is so blatant, so extreme, and so suspiciously criminal that it should become a rallying point for all of us interested in reform. It involves the two best-respected medical journals in the world, and a finding that immediately affected the lives of thousands of patients around the globe. Two papers purported to be derived from a large, worldwide database, but they were quietly withdrawn when the data was requested by outside reviewers, and none could be produced. Where is the outrage? Where is the passion for reform?
Hydroxychloroquine is a cheap, out-of-patent drug that literally millions of travelers have been using for 65 years for prevention of malaria. It is also taken on a daily basis by hundreds of thousands of lupus patients. Its safety profile and side-effects are well established. Front-line doctors in Wuhan told us early that, in combination with zinc, it was the most effective COVID treatment they knew. It had previously been used with success during the SARS epidemic of 2003. European doctors reported anecdotal success with chloroquine/zinc, and it became standard treatment in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere [review]. There were about 70 ongoing clinical trials before the two articles appeared.
HCQ has been discouraged by Anthony Fauci and segments of the American medical establishment, and I have wondered if they were compromised by their investments. Fauci is associated, ideologically and financially, with vaccines. The primary competitor for HCQ is Remdesivir, belonging to Gilead Sciences, and selling for $1,000 per dose. Billions of dollars have already been invested in developing a COVID vaccine. That COVID seems to be treatable and that the pandemic is fading with the spring weather is welcome news for world health, but it is devastating for investors in Gilead, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and 20 other companies that are racing to produce a COVID vaccine.
Last month, the two most prestigious medical journals in the world reported large studies by prominent researchers, based on a large COVID data set from Asia, Europe, and America. The lead author is from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s teaching hospital. Here is the Lancet article, claiming that hydroxychloroquine is worse than useless. The data appear to show that people treated with HCQ are dying at 3 times the rate of other, similar patients. Here is the New England Journal article, which analyzes comorbidities but does not mention HCQ.
The Lancet paper had been duly peer-reviewed and rushed into print by editors. But seasoned researchers in the field immediately smelled that something must be wrong. How could this huge database of patients exist, crossing four continents and going back to the earliest days of the virus, when no one thought the records would be valuable? How could comparable conditions be established in hospitals from Capetown to Beijing to New York? And how could a drug in use for 65 years have such powerful lethal side-effects that no one had previously identified?
Questioned and challenged to produce the data behind the study, the authors quickly retracted the paper and refused further comment.
“Dr. Desai declined a request from The Times to be put in contact with a hospital or health care facility that provided its data to Surgisphere. He did not respond to inquiries after the retractions.” NYTimes
Nirav Desai is a physician and researcher from Surgisphere, a small Chicago company that claimed to have compiled the impressive database. Both retracted studies were led by Mandeep R. Mehra, a widely published and highly regarded professor of medicine at Harvard, who may end up being the fall guy for this scandal.
But no one is investigating Surgisphere as the source of a criminal fraud. No one is holding the Lancet journal or its editors or reviewers to account. Certainly no one is questioning the broad system funding and publishing the medical research on which the practice of Western medicine is based. To their credit, Science Magazine published this article, hinting at a scandal and beginning to ask the right questions.
This is happening at a time when the medical establishment is making the largest demands ever on our beliefs and our behaviors. We are locked down based on the computer simulation of a compromised researcher, who also did not document the basis of his computation, and whose predictions have proved spectacularly inflated. Why did we trust him, when he had cried wolf twice previously (Ebola, Avian flu)? The liberal-intellectual press and the science journals speak with a unified voice. denouncing anyone who questions vaccines as ‘anti-science’. Every article in Wikipedia and every Google search is plastered with a message that tells us to trust the CDC. The head of Youtube goes on the air to explain why anyone who disagrees with the WHO must have their videos removed.
The largest of the studies evaluating HCQ were discontinued after the Lancet article raised the probability that the studies might be putting lives of experimental subjects at risk. Now they are being re-started, but a fresh scandal has arisen. Dr Meryl Nass has investigated details of the “Soldarity” and “Recovery” trials. She reports that these trials plan to use dosages that are at least 4 times larger than necessary, dosages that have been found to be unsafe in the past, in fact fatal to a few percent of sensitive patients. She does not mention that the trials are leaving out zinc supplementation, which doctors everywhere report to be an essential part of the treatment protocol. The studies have indirect ties to vaccine manufacturers, through the WHO and through the Gates Foundation.
It appears on its face that these trials are designed to fail, and will kill experimental subjects on the way to “proving” that HCQ is an ineffective treatment. These suspicions can only be amplified by an announcement today from FDA that chloroquine cannot be used for COVID cases. This intrusion into physician autonomy is unprecedented. For as long as FDA has existed, its policy has been to permit physicians to freely prescribe drugs off-label for any condition where the individual physician feels it might be useful.
The institutions in which Americans and Europeans have entrusted their health have betrayed our trust. There are narrow implications for the future of HCQ and treatment of COVID, and then there are broader implications about the need for overhauling the profit incentives in medical research.
For those of who dare to look beyond our own noses, a concerted campaign to discredit a good, cheap treatment for COVID is a hint that might help us make sense of the bizarre global events of the last five months. This is a real virus, a real pandemic, but it is being exploited for a political agenda far larger than the effects of the disease itself.
- Why have death rates been consistently overestimated in public reports?
- Why have hospitals been incentivized to over-report COVID deaths, and to treat patients with ventilators that don’t seem to be helping?
- Why has CDC failed to recommend simple, inexpensive prevention measures (vitamin D, zinc, immune-enhancing herbs, special measures for nursing homes)?
- Why have our government agencies encouraged shortcutting of safety tests in “warp-speed” vaccine development, while discrediting simple, cheap treatments (intravenous vitamin C, chloroquine/zinc, Artemisia) that work in other countries?
- Why has COVID become cause for bailouts of the financial sector that have little to do with the disease, while working families and small businesses have been forced into bankruptcy?
Many geneticists, including two Nobel laureates, cite evidence that COVID seems to be man-made, the product of genetic engineering (excellent technical summary). But this idea is off the table for discussion, censored by both the scientific community and by the mainstream press (original article, sanitized rewrite). Could it be that the same powerful forces benefiting from the lockdown and social control have power to censor both the scientific establishment and the popular press? These may seem wild speculations, but perhaps they are justified by wild events.
The rules we are asked to follow have been maximally destructive to our economy, our institutions, and our culture, while providing far less life-saving benefit than simpler strategies. Maybe the cultural and social isolation were intended to serve a different purpose than the protection of public health.
“Two major study retractions in one month have left researchers wondering if the peer review process is broken.” NYTimes
The Times calls them “big blunders” but this is far too charitable. A big blunder is when you publish an article without noticing that a plus sign is really a minus. But when you fail to notice that the database of patient cases you are analyzing doesn’t exist, that is a fraud and not a blunder.
We like to think that medical practice is following medical research as the tail follows the dog. But look at the two economies—$3.5 trillion per year in health care revenues in America vs an NSF budget of only $8 billion spread over every kind of science. It may be too much to expect the dog to wag the tail when the tail is 500 times larger than the dog.
Meanwhile, medical consumers are voting with their feet. People flock to dietary supplements ($35 billion/year), acupuncturists, chiropractors, and alternative healers. 40% of Americans think that non-standard approaches to cancer are more likely to cure them than chemotherapy and radiation, while most of the purveyors of those alternatives have been driven overseas by aggressive FDA “oversight”.
If the medical science establishment wishes to regain the trust of the American public, they will have to demonstrate that the health of individual patients weighs more heavily in their calculations than the profit motive.