The Lancet retracted a paper co-authored by Dr. Sapan Desai in June.
NYT calls Dr. Sapan Desai “an ambitious man with a history of cutting corners.”
A controversial Indian American doctor who supplied disputed covid data for two major later retracted studies has been portrayed as an ambitious “man in a hurry” with a history of cutting corners.
Dr. Sapan Desai, who had “cast himself as a prolific researcher published in medical journals” seized the moment when coronavirus hit, the New York Times reported.
He produced two studies with another Indian American Harvard professor Dr. Mandeep Mehra, published in The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet in May. These were retracted “weeks after researchers around the world suggested the data was dubious,” it noted.
“One study’s findings were particularly dramatic, reporting that anti-malaria drugs like hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump promoted, were linked to increased deaths of Covid-19 patients.”
Dr. Desai, 41, the Times said, declined to share the raw information even with his co-authors, claiming it was culled from a massive trove acquired by Surgisphere, a company started by him.
The Times cited “many people who have known Dr. Desai” as describing him “as a man in a hurry, a former whiz kid willing to cut corners, misrepresent information or embellish his credentials as he pursued his ambitions.”
More than a dozen unnamed “doctors who worked with him during training and residency” were cited by the newspaper in interviews as saying “they had often found him to be an unreliable physician.”
More recently, in February, Dr. Desai left his job at a community hospital in a Chicago suburb where he had worked as a surgeon since 2016.
He was named as a defendant in three medical malpractice lawsuits last year, court records show. The Times cited his spokeswoman as saying he “deems any lawsuit naming him to be unfounded.”
The New York Times said Dr. Desai declined to be interviewed for its report and did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
However, he has defended his company’s data in the past. The Times quoted him as saying in an interview in late May that it was his “life’s work” to build a company that could provide lifesaving clinical insights to make “the world a better place.”
“We did this because it was an opportunity to help. We’re not making any money from this,” he was quoted as saying. “This is why I went into medicine.”
Over the next five years, his performance and a pattern of behavior at the North Carolina hospital worried colleagues, “according to physicians who worked with him there” cited by the Times.
At Dr. Desai’s most recent post at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois, he became involved in at least four medical malpractice cases that are still pending, including three filed in 2019, it said.
The Times said Dr. Desai saw the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity. He teamed up with Mehra and several others to turn out papers about covid-19 that were ostensibly based on the patient registry.
When the studies drew scrutiny from scientists who demanded to know more about the data, “Dr. Desai’s co-authors, conceding they had never seen the raw data, called for an independent review,” the newspaper said. But “Dr. Desai balked, invoking confidentiality agreements.”
Since then “Surgisphere’s flashy website has been dismantled,” Times said. And “Dr. Desai, who gave several interviews before the studies were retracted, has gone silent.”