Henry Ford researchers defend hydroxychloroquine study, slam politics surrounding drug

The persisting political climate has made any objective discussion about hydroxychloroquine "impossible," two Henry Ford Health System executives wrote in an open letter dated Aug. 3.

Adnan Munkarah, MD, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at the Detroit-based system, along with Steven Kalkanis, MD, senior vice president and chief academic officer for Henry Ford, penned the letter in response to comments by Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that their study on hydroxychloroquine was "flawed." 

The situation is a bellwether for the kind of tension other systems may face when their clinical research overlaps with commentary from the White House. 

Four things to know:

1. Addressing friends and colleagues around the world, Dr. Munkarah and Dr. Kalkanis said the most accepted and definitive way to determine treatment efficacy is a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. But this type of study takes a long time to design, execute and analyze, so observational research is used to get as best an answer as soon as possible.

2. Observational research can never completely account for biases inherent in how physicians make different decisions to treat different patients, the leaders said. It's not unusual that results vary in different studies, and no one study should be considered on its own.

3. The Henry Ford treatment study should be considered as another important contribution to hydroxychloroquine research, Drs. Munkarah and Kalkanis wrote in a letter to the editor published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases July 31. Based on their findings, the authors believe the drug can have a role in reducing mortality for COVID-19.

4. Scientific debate is common, and can, in part, fuel the advancement of knowledge, the leaders write. They said their only goal was to report validated findings and allow the science to speak for itself, regardless of political considerations. In light of the recent events, Drs. Munkarah and Kalkanis said they have decided to no longer comment about the topic outside of the medical community and will stay focused on their patients, community and commitment to clinical and academic integrity.

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