Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, which features some of the best investigative reports in healthcare every week.
HCQ Doc sues critic
Didier Raoult, MD, PhD, the French doctor who defended hydroxychloroquine at the start of the pandemic, has taken legal action against Dutch researcher Elisabeth Bik, PhD, following a review she published of her early studies on the drug, The Guardian reports.
Raoult alleges that criticism of Bik – she’s an expert at spotting research errors and fraud – amounted to harassment and that she extorts people because she has a Patreon account.
Raoult touted that his March 2020 article, originally published as a pre-print, showed hydroxychloroquine to work as a treatment for COVID-19. But Message from Bik pointed out several methodological flaws, including the fact that it was not a randomized controlled trial, that it failed to control for confounding factors, and that there was a lack of data for six patients, three of whom were are aggravated and one deceased.
Raoult and his colleagues also criticized Bik in the press and posted personal information about him, including his address, on social media. The harassment prompted hundreds of scientists to join a open letter in support of Bik.
Last summer, Raoult was charged by the French Society of Infectious Diseases to disseminate false information about the benefits of hydroxychloroquine. Disciplinary actions have not yet been reported.
Billions of vaccines
The COVID-19 vaccine gold rush has hit at least nine new billionaires since the start of the pandemic, Insider reports.
Most of them are executives and scientists from companies involved in vaccine development and production, including Moderna, BioNTech, and CanSino Biologics, and their newfound wealth is largely due to soaring corporate stock prices.
The nine new billionaires are:
- Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, is now worth $ 4.3 billion
- Ugur Sahin, MD, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, is now worth $ 4 billion
- Moderna founding investor Timothy Springer is now worth $ 2.2 billion
- Moderna president Noubar Afeyan is now worth $ 1.9 billion
- Juan Lopez-Belmonte, president of a Spanish biotech that manufactures the Moderna vaccine, now worth $ 1.8 billion
- Robert Langer, ScD, professor at MIT and founding investor in Moderna, worth $ 1.6 billion
- CanSino Co-Founder Zhu Tao, PhD Now Worth $ 1.3 Billion
- CanSino Co-Founder Qiu Dongxu, PhD Now Worth $ 1.2 Billion
- CanSino co-founder Mao Huinhoa is now worth $ 1 billion
The combined $ 19 billion net worth of these nine leaders is enough to immunize 776 million people in low-income countries, according to the report from the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of health and human rights groups including Oxfam. , Global Justice Now and UNAIDS.
Stanford had to walk a fine line between infringing on academic freedom and maintaining the public health consensus with a number of its experts last year, and STAT profiled one of them.
Michael Levitt, PhD, DSc, is a 2013 biophysicist and Nobel Laureate, for computer programming work he did in his twenties (now 70) regarding protein folding. He has no experience with infectious diseases, but he did become an advisor to government officials during the pandemic – among them Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also took to social media, often with provocative (and ultimately incorrect) ideas, and signed Great Barrington’s controversial statement.
Levitt said STAT that he and a handful of other researchers have come to be known as “Stanford Terribles.” This includes John Ioannidis, MD, PhD, who took the heat for failing to disclose conflicts of interest around an article on COVID death rates, Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, one of the main supporters of the Great Barrington statement, and Scott Atlas, MD, the radiologist who became the de facto medical officer of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
While Stanford has ultimately distanced itself from Atlas’s claims, it has taken a more neutral approach to others, potentially trying to avoid criticism of restrictions on academic freedom. But not all Stanford colleagues agreed with this strategy.
Julie Parsonnet, MD, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Stanford, said a line should be drawn when experts use their position inappropriately. She used astrophysics as a metaphor: “If I would go out and stand in front of a big S for Stanford and say, as a Stanford faculty member, ‘the Big Bang never happened’ , I think I should be chastised by my institution for this. “