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Explainer: The ‘serious errors, signs of potential fraud’ that scientists found from trials of ivermectin use for Covid-19

SINGAPORE — More than a third of 26 major trials of ivermectin, a drug that some people believe can treat Covid-19, have “serious errors or signs of potential fraud”, British news network BBC reported on Thursday (Oct 7). There is evidence in five of the trials that the data may have been falsified.

Scientists have warned against taking ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug, as a treatment for Covid-19. Health agencies are saying there is not enough evidence to promote the drug as a remedy and that research has often been unsound.

Scientists have warned against taking ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug, as a treatment for Covid-19. Health agencies are saying there is not enough evidence to promote the drug as a remedy and that research has often been unsound.

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  • A group of independent scientists looked at trials of ivermectin being used to treat Covid-19
  • They found inconsistencies, serious errors and even fake data being used among other problems with the studies
  • BBC reported that the largest and highest quality ivermectin study published so far is the Together Trial at the McMaster University in Canada
  • This study found no benefit for the drug when it comes to Covid-19
  • Apart from this group, other researchers and publications have also found other problems with studies that claim the drug has benefits

 

SINGAPORE — More than a third of 26 major trials of ivermectin, a drug that some people believe can treat Covid-19, have “serious errors or signs of potential fraud”, British news network BBC reported on Thursday (Oct 7). There is evidence in five of the trials that the data may have been falsified.

As for the rest of the trials, none of them show convincing evidence of ivermectin's effectiveness, BBC stated in its report, which revealed that there are “serious errors in a number of key studies that the drug's promoters rely on” after a group of scientists took a close look at the trials.

Ivermectin is an anti-parasite pharmaceutical drug used to treat parasite infestations in humans such as head lice, and in larger quantities, it is also used to remove worms from animals such as dogs and horses.

The drug, which has made headlines worldwide after some proponents claim that it can help fight Covid-19, cannot be bought over the counter in Singapore and is only available via a prescription.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has also stated a couple of times that ivermectin is not an anti-viral medicine and is not approved for use here to prevent and treat Covid-19.

The drug made news this week in Singapore after a Facebook user disclosed that her mother was hospitalised after taking ivermectin, having been urged by her friends to use it to protect herself from Covid-19. That prompted supporters of the drug to take aim at her, saying she was blowing things “out of proportion”.

TODAY takes a closer look at what scientists have uncovered recently.

WHY SCIENTISTS EXAMINED THE TRIALS

BBC reported that many people around the world have started using ivermectin due to their belief in research that has been conducted proving its effectiveness against Covid-19.

“Campaigners for the drug point to a number of scientific studies and often claim this evidence is being ignored or covered up.

“But a review by a group of independent scientists has cast serious doubt on that body of research,” BBC wrote in its report.

WHO THESE SCIENTISTS ARE

Dr Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, Dr James Heathers, Dr Nick Brown and Dr Kyle Sheldrick are the scientists in the group who “each have a track record of exposing dodgy science”, BBC said, adding that the men have been working together remotely during the pandemic on an “informal and voluntary basis”.

These scientists formed a group looking deeper into ivermectin studies after one biomedical student spotted problems with a study from Egypt. For example, it included patients who turned out to have died before the trial started. 

That study has now been retracted by the journal that published it.

The group of scientists examined virtually every randomised controlled trial on ivermectin and Covid-19 — people being randomly chosen to receive either the drug that is being tested or a placebo.

They also examined all the key studies regularly cited by the drug's promoters as proof that it works, as well as at six particularly influential observational trials. This kind of trial studies what happens to people who are taking the drug anyway, so they can be biased by the types of people who choose to take the treatment.

WHAT THEY FOUND

Dr Sheldrick said the group found that every single clinical trial they examined had "either obvious signs of fabrication or errors so critical they invalidate the study". These were trials that claim to show that ivermectin prevented Covid-19 deaths.

In all, more than a third of 26 major trials have serious errors or signs of potential fraud, they said. 

The rest did not show convincing evidence of ivermectin's effectiveness against Covid-19. 

The major problems identified in the trials were:

  • The same patient data being used multiple times for supposedly different people

  • Evidence that selection of patients for test groups was not random

  • Numbers unlikely to occur naturally

Percentages were also found to be calculated incorrectly and local health bodies were unaware of the studies being conducted.

Evidence in five of the 26 trials showed that the data may have been faked and in five other trials, numbers did not add up, among other things.

BBC reported that 14 authors of the studies being scrutinised failed to send data back to the team, which the scientists have flagged as a possible indicator of fraud.

The scientists also found that in the sample of research papers they examined — which contains some high-quality studies from around the world — the bigger the claim in terms of lives saved or infections prevented, the greater the concerns suggesting the research might be falsified or invalid.

A recent study in Lebanon was found to have blocks of details of 11 patients that had been copied and pasted repeatedly, suggesting that many of the trial's apparent patients did not really exist. 

Another study from Iran seemed to show that ivermectin prevented people dying from Covid-19, but what was spotted in the records of how much iron was in patients' blood contained numbers in a sequence that was unlikely to come up naturally.

Both of these trials were excluded from a paper for non-profit Cochrane — which is an international community of health experts who review scientific evidence — because they were "such poorly reported studies". The review under Cochrane concluded that there was no evidence of benefit from ivermectin when it comes to Covid-19.

WHAT A PROPER TRIAL FOUND

BBC noted that the largest and highest quality ivermectin study published so far is the Together Trial at the McMaster University in Canada. 

It found no benefit for the drug when it comes to Covid-19.

WHAT OTHER RESEARCHERS FOUND

Another group of researchers and epidemiologists published an article in medical journal Nature Medicine, stating that they have found several studies claiming there is a clinical benefit for ivermectin, but these contain impossible numbers in their results and inexplicable mismatches between trial registry updates and published patient demographics.

The purported timelines are not consistent with the veracity of the data collection and there are “substantial methodological weaknesses”, they said.

BuzzFeed News reported last month that a study from Argentina published in the Journal of Biomedical Research and Clinical Investigation claimed ivermectin prevented Covid-19 100 per cent of the time, but it contained suspect data.

For instance, the numbers, genders and ages of the study’s participants were inconsistent. A hospital named in the paper as taking part in the experiments said that it has no record of it happening. And health officials in the province of Buenos Aires have also said that they have no record of the study receiving approval.

WHAT OFFICIAL BODIES SAY ABOUT IVERMECTIN

HSA in Singapore has already said that to date, there is no scientific evidence from properly conducted clinical trials to prove that ivermectin is effective against Covid-19.

A study in Singapore done by the National University Health System last year did not find any evidence suggesting that ivermectin had any effect on Covid-19 either.

There have already been cases of people needing to be warded in hospitals for treatment after consuming ivermectin, HSA said, adding that it is dangerous to self-medicate with the drug.

In March this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that ivermectin should be used to treat Covid-19 only in clinical trials and that evidence on its effectiveness against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus causing Covid-19 was “inconclusive”.

In the United States, The New York Times reported that hospitals and poison control centres across the US are treating a growing number of patients who are taking the drug, including hospitalisations and those who have had “altered mental statuses”.

The US Food and Drug Administration said on its website that it has not authorised or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating Covid-19 in humans or animals.

WHAT DROVE THE DEMAND FOR IVERMECTIN

The Washington Post in the US reported that the idea of ivermectin being a potential treatment for Covid-19 began gaining steam last year, when Australian researchers observed that the medicine killed the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus in a laboratory setting.

Other scientists quickly noted, however, that the findings showed that the amount of the drug required to have an effect on the virus was much higher than the amount approved for use in humans and could be fatal.

Lab-based tests, where ivermectin and the Sars-Cov-2 virus interact in a petri dish, were also unable to mimic the complexities of the human body.

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Covid-19 coronavirus ivermectin fraud error data scientists BBC

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