Things get even more surreal and idiotic with humanity’s creative attempts to cure COVID-19. India is now rolling out a Ayurvedic clinical trial with cow urine and manure, China continues playing with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), while we in the progressive and enlightened West go for stem cells, phony vaccine promises from shady companies (Moderna), drugs which do not really work but are convincingly expensive (Remdesivir), and of course the miracle drug chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).
And yet, we are possibly witnessing now the last act of the chloroquine circus, since the malaria drug was proven not just ineffective against coronavirus infections, but also dangerous, especially in combination with the antibiotic azythromycine. A personal setback for the Chloroquine Guru Didier Raoult: France’s government completely banned HCQ prescriptions for COVID-19 patients on 27 May 2020. Future historians will figure out how many people worldwide suffered or died because of the quack cure from Marseilles which whole nations blindly followed.
At the same time, the charismatic director of the IHU Méditerranée Infection research hospital in Marseilles, who once pronounced Fin de Partie (end of the game) for the coronavirus because of his chloroquine cure, is now facing a fin de partie for himself instead.
Raoult might be facing the same fate as his US counterpart, Vovka “Zev” Zelenko who was once best friends with Donald Trump’s clique, and was now kicked out of his Orthodox Jewish village community in New York state for presenting himself as a kind of God-appointed (literally!) chloroquine Messiah and for faking the local coronavirus infection rates. Zelenko is now even under federal investigation for fraud, which could very much happen to Raoult.
As it turned out, the IHU director and medical doctor Raoult has always been treating COVID-19 (or alleged COVID-19) patients in Marseilles with chloroquine drugs illegally, and he announced to continue regardless of any orders or bans from the French government and national authorities.
Raoult’s first chloroquine study Gautret et al IJAA 2020 was published on 20 March 2020, as preprint and “peer reviewed” paper in an Elsevier journal run by his subordinate IHU coauthor. The clinical trial had no real control arm, because Raoult does not believe in randomised controlled clinical trials (RCT), or medical ethics in the first place (more about that here). Instead, COVID-19 patients in neighbourhood hospitals served as “controls”, because everyone at Raoult’s IHU hospital was treated with chloroquine (i.e., if they showed mild symptoms only or no symptoms at all, the really sick ones were simply never admitted to IHU).
A week later Raoult’s team published results from a follow-up “clinical trial”, this time with 80 patients and no control arm at all, not even a pretend one. The paper later appeared as Gautret et al TMID 2020 in another Elsevier journal, where same Philippe Gautret of IHU is senior editor. In interviews, the long-haired and bearded Guru of the Cult of Chloroquine declared that the concept of RCTs and control groups goes against the Hippocratic oath, and that he doesn’t need any ethics approvals or informed consent because the malaria drug chloroquine is well-known. The French authorities were unconvinced. In fact, as Liberation reported, they even forbade Raoult to run any clinical studies with chloroquine on COVID-19 patients without a control arm. The negative verdict was delivered on 1 April 2020:
“such a study, “open without control group” , “will not answer the question of the possible efficacy of the combination with the azithromycin, especially since the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine alone has not been demonstrated in the study justifying this research, due to the many biases it involves ”.
Raoult wiped his bottom with it and continued treating thousands of COVID-19 patients at IHU with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycine combination. He does this even now as I write this text, because he thinks nobody can touch him in France.
But then again, there was that mysterious letter. On 20 May 2020, the French newspaper Entreprendre published an alleged Raoult email to Robert Lafont, the CEO of this publishing house. The online article was swiftly deleted, but here is a backup. This was the letter, translated:
“Since you have been one of the rare journalists to have exhibited exemplary behaviour during this period, I would like to take this opportunity to reserve for you the first news: my upcoming departure for China (by the end of the summer). I was indeed recruited as Professor by the Peking University (PUHSC), the most renowned medical school in the country, which happens to be very advanced in the field of virology. It became very complicated to undertake research projects in the health sector in France, the sector being plagued by partisan quarrels, sprawling bureaucracy and political correctness. “
Newspapers were quick to denounce the letter as fake news and a prank, because Raoult’s PR goblin, Yanis Roussel, announced “Attention fake: Didier Raoult does not go to China”. He for sure does not, the job offer from Peking was definitely fake news. Lafort himself forwarded to journalists the original email sent by “firstname.lastname@example.org“. Now, a professional journalist and publisher like Lafort, with almost 40 years of experience, would surely have phoned or otherwise contacted Raoult or at least his PR imp Roussel, to confirm the dynamite email from a private account one never heard of. We are supposed to believe that Lafort did none of that, fell for such a simple prank and run with the story. That however would be a journalistic equivalent of you sending all your money to a Nigerian prince or Gaddafi’s niece because you also received a strange email.
Anyway, Raoult is certainly not tenable as IHU director. He is 68, and in principle he doesn’t need to be sacked, just forced to retire. Especially now that Raoult started to commit the worst possible crime an academic can commit.
Obviously it is not patient abuse, but neither is it his cruel and chauvinistic bullying (Raoult’s master discipline, especially making female students cry), not is it sexual harassment or assault (Raoult allowed that to happen at IHU for years, and when the vile perpetrator was sacked, Raoult brought him back into a new job with IHU). Nor is it research misconduct, Raoult was blacklisted for that before, with more data manipulations found in his papers by Elisabeth Bik.
The crime, which academia never forgives, is that of accusing your peers of research fraud, especially publicly, on Twitter even. Something the Marseilles Guru does willy-nilly these days. Maybe he knows that he already lost his power and soon also his job?
It started with Raoult’s attack on Elisabeth Bik, and then on his colleagues in Paris:
Which brings us to a certain recent Lancet paper which might become the final nail in the coffin of chloroquine and likely also the silver bullet against Raoult’s dictatorial rule in Marseilles.
Update 4.06.2020: the following text has been overtaken by reality. Turned out, the paper Mehra et al Lancet 2020 was fake, it was retracted today. But still do read the updates at the end!
A retrospective study analysed a huge cohort of COVID-19 patients, collated by the surgeon analytics company Surgisphere, from clinical studies reported by its members. The paper Mehra et al Lancet 2020 appeared on 22 May and reported the analysis of almost 15k patients treated with HCQ, in a group of 96k COVID-19 patients worldwide.
The study concluded (FYI, macrolide is the group of antibiotics azithromycine belongs to):
“We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19. Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for treatment of COVID-19.”
As the result and with direct reference to this paper, the World Health Organisation (WHO) immediately suspended the HCQ arm of its huge COVID-19 clinical trial Solidarity.
French High Council for Public Health reacted to the Lancet study and ruled that chloroquine drugs must not be used on COVID-19 patients outside of clinical trials, while the government followed with the ban on prescription for COVID-19 patients altogether. Raoult’s comment in this regard was:
“Here we have had 4,000 people go through our hospital, you don’t think I’m going to change because there are people who do ‘big data’, which is a kind of completely delusional fantasy”
Of course, the choleric IHU director then went to Twitter and accused the Lancet authors of fraud, in no uncertain words. First in French, then in error-prone English:
“About the paper published in The Lancet: data coming from five different continents cannot be so homogeneous. There is either data manipulation (not mentionned in Material and Methodes), or incorporation of faked data.”
For a narcissistic psychopath like Raoult, there is no such thing as cognitive dissonance. Whatever problems the Lancet paper might be having (the concerns are growing), Raoult’s own “clinical trials” are much, much worse. So bad, one doesn’t know where to start criticising them. The fraud he accuses others of is merely a bloated projection of his own propensity for research misconduct. It is also helpful to the ego that there are loyal friends like the former Minister of Health and now IHU board member, Philippe Douste-Blazy, who go on television to accuse all chloroquine dissenters of fraud.
Another politician, Christian Estrosi, denounced a “lynching” of Raoult by the media. The idea presumably being, since Raoult was born in colonial Senegal, that everyone not adoring this African man is basically a racist Klansman.
IHU members voice their support as well. A Twitter account with the name of Eric Chabriere, one of IHU’s authors of the chloroquine studies, is a troll account from which the Lancet authors were accused of fraud even before Raoult moved to do so. Chabriere himself then wrote emails to critics, claiming that Twitter account was fake and not his. Yet why did @ChabriereEric block several of these critics, and then switched the account to private mode, all past tweets hidden now? At least another IHU stooge, Philippe Parola, is not hiding:
Of course, every study supporting chloroquine, regardless of how abysmal in quality, is celebrated by Raoult and his ilk. Only that there won’t be much left to celebrate soon. Take his past endorsement for the Davido et al medRxiv 2020 preprint from Paris where dying COVID-19 patients were reportedly saved by the magic drug chloroquine. Raoult tweeted:
“Very good work from the team of Christian Perronne, at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches.”
Let us ignore for the moment the fact that the study’s lead author Christian Perronne is a quack whom Raoult himself has previously strongly denounced. A quack who designs unhinged therapies for autism. Let’s ignore its peer critics also.
But why is Raoult’s now silent as to what happened to that same Perronne preprint he so lauded just days before this notice appeared on it:
“The authors have withdrawn this manuscript and do not wish it to be cited. Because of controversy about hydroxychloroquine and the retrospective nature of their study, they intend to revise the manuscript after peer review”.
It is all a bad farce which stopped being funny long ago. The sooner the French dispose of Raoult, the better for the COVID-19 effort worldwide. Many lives will be saved for sure. But so far, the French government and the national authorities are afraid of an open confrontation with the Sun of Marseilles.
The paper Mehra et al Lancet 2020 has received a correction due to misrepresentation of one Australian hospital, while Surgisphere issued on 29.05.2020 a clarification statement addressing the concerns.
In between, an open letter to The Lancet was published regarding that paper, protesting “There was no ethics review” and demanding open access to the study’s research data. The campaign gathered at the time of media reporting over 120 signatures from clinicians across the world. One of the signatories is Raoult’s right-hand man Philippe Parola, who doesn’t get the irony for sure.
Lancet issued on 3.06.2020 an Expression of Concern for the Mehra et al 2020 paper and announced “an independent audit of the provenance and validity of the data”, the journal NEJM did the same for a related Surgisphere paper Mehra et al Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in Covid-19 NEJM 2020. The NEJM Expression of Concern appeared one day earlier, on 2.06.2020. Surgisphere is now credibly accused of being nothing but a fraud, Raoult would be right this time. Read more in this Science article.
But right after, on 5.06.2020, NEJM published the study Boulware et al A Randomized Trial of Hydroxychloroquine as Postexposure Prophylaxis for Covid-19 NEJM 2020 , where 821 people with high-risk coronavirus exposure were recruited to study possible role of HCQ in COVID-19 prevention. There was no statistical difference to placebo, except of HCQ-induced side effects.
Raoult himself switched to unashamed trolling.
In this TV interview he said the following (transcript and translation by my Twitter followers):
“First, there is this guy much better than me – and that annoys me- in Paris, at Gustave Roussy, his name is Guido Kroemer, his wife [Laurence Zitvogel] is marvellous, you should interview them, they are geniuses, he is a genius, he is the best immunologist in the world, we are very much in contact, she chairs my scientific council, she is a genius…“
Guido Kroemer prominently featured on my site, together with Laurence Zitvogel even in this stage play. Their joint PubPeer record of manipulated data currently stands at 57 papers (it grows every time someone bothers to have another look). The sudden expression of admiration from Raoult is bizarre, but kind of fits. Research cheaters seem to cover for each other, and the Paris Photoshop couple Kroemer and Zitvogel are very loyal in this regard.
But on 5 June, the investigators of the randomised controlled clinical trial in UK (RECOVERY) with 11,000 patients issued this statement:
“Last night, the Committee recommended the chief investigators review the unblinded data on the hydroxychloroquine arm of the trial. ‘We have concluded that there is no beneficial effect of hydroxychloroquine in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. We have therefore decided to stop enrolling participants to the hydroxychloroquine arm of the RECOVERY trial with immediate effect.“
“On 17 June 2020, WHO announced that the hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) arm of the Solidarity Trial to find an effective COVID-19 treatment was being stopped.
The trial’s Executive Group and principal investigators made the decision based on evidence from the Solidarity trial, UK’s Recovery trial and a Cochrane review of other evidence on hydroxychloroquine.
Data from Solidarity (including the French Discovery trial data) and the recently announced results from the UK’s Recovery trial both showed that hydroxychloroquine does not result in the reduction of mortality of hospitalised COVID-19 patients, when compared with standard of care.
Investigators will not randomize further patients to hydroxychloroquine in the Solidarity trial. Patients who have already started hydroxychloroquine but who have not yet finished their course in the trial may complete their course or stop at the discretion of the supervising physician.
This decision applies only to the conduct of the Solidarity trial and does not apply to the use or evaluation of hydroxychloroquine in pre or post-exposure prophylaxis in patients exposed to COVID-19.”
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