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Ivermectin–COVID-19 study retracted; authors blame file mix-up


The authors of a study purportedly showing that ivermectin could treat patients with SARS-CoV-2 have retracted their paper after acknowledging that their data were garbled.

The paper, “Effects of a Single Dose of Ivermectin on Viral and Clinical Outcomes in Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infected Subjects: A Pilot Clinical Trial in Lebanon,” appeared in the journal Viruses in May. According to the abstract: “A randomized controlled trial was conducted in 100 asymptomatic Lebanese subjects that have tested positive for SARS-CoV2. Fifty patients received standard preventive treatment, mainly supplements, and the experimental group received a single dose (according to body weight) of ivermectin, in addition to the same supplements the control group received.”

Results results results … and: “Ivermectin appears to be efficacious in providing clinical benefits in a randomized treatment of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2-positive subjects, effectively resulting in fewer symptoms, lower viral load and reduced hospital admissions. However, larger-scale trials are warranted for this conclusion to be further cemented.”

However, in early October, the BBC reported — in a larger piece about the concerns about ivermectin-Covid-19 research — that the study “was found to have blocks of details of 11 patients that had been copied and pasted repeatedly – suggesting many of the trial’s apparent patients didn’t really exist.”

The study’s authors told the BBC that the ‘original set of data was rigged, sabotaged or mistakenly entered in the final file’ and that they have submitted a retraction to the scientific journal which published it.

That’s not quite what the retraction notice states: “The journal retracts the article, Effects of a Single Dose of Ivermectin on Viral and Clinical Outcomes in Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infected Subjects: A Pilot Clinical Trial in Lebanon [ 1 ], cited above. Following publication, the authors contacted the editorial office regarding an error between files used for the statistical analysis. Adhering to our complaints procedure, an investigation was conducted that confirmed the error reported by the authors.

This retraction was approved by the Editor in Chief of the journal. The authors agreed to this retraction.”

Ali Samaha, of Lebanese University in Beirut, and the lead author of the study, told us: “It was brought to our attention that we have used wrong file for our paper. We informed immediately the journal and we have run investigations. After revising the raw data we realised that a file that was used to train a research assistant was sent by mistake for analysis. Re-analysing the original data , the conclusions of the paper remained valid. For our transparency we asked for retraction.”

About that BBC report? Samaha said: “The BBC article was generated before the report of independent reviewers who confirmed an innocent mistake by using wrong file.”

Samaha added that he and his colleagues are now considering whether to resubmit the paper.

The article has been cited four times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science — including in this meta-analysis published in June in the American Journal of Therapeutics , which concluded that: “Moderate-certainty evidence finds that large reductions in COVID-19 deaths are possible using ivermectin. Using ivermectin early in the clinical course may reduce numbers progressing to severe disease. The apparent safety and low cost suggest that ivermectin is likely to have a significant impact on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic globally.”

That article was a social media darling, receiving more than 45,000 tweets and pickups in 90 news outlets, according to Altmetrics, which ranks it No. 7 among all papers published at that time.

A version of this article first appeared on Retraction Watch.

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