Importance. COVID-19 has resulted in massive production, publication and wide dissemination of clinical studies trying to identify effective treatments. However, several widely touted treatments failed to show effectiveness in large well-done randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
Objective. To evaluate for COVID-19 treatments that showed no benefits in subsequent large RCTs how many of their most-cited clinical studies had declared favorable results for these interventions.
Methods. Scopus (last update December 23, 2021) identified articles on lopinavir-ritonavir, hydroxycholoroquine/azithromycin, remdesivir, convalescent plasma, colchicine or interferon (index interventions) that represented clinical trials and that had received >150 citations. Their conclusions were assessed and correlated with study design features. The ten most recent citations for the most-cited article on each index intervention were examined on whether they were critical to the highly-cited study. Altmetric scores were also obtained.
Findings. 40 articles of clinical studies on these index interventions had received >150 citations (7 exceeded 1,000 citations). 20/40 (50%) had favorable conclusions and 4 were equivocal. Highly-cited articles with favorable conclusions were rarely RCTs while those without favorable conclusions were mostly RCTs (3/20 vs 15/20, p=0.0003). Only 1 RCT with favorable conclusions had sample size >160. Citation counts correlated strongly with Altmetric scores, in particular news items. Only 9 (15%) of 60 recent citations to the most highly-cited studies with favorable or equivocal conclusions were critical to the highly-cited study.
Conclusion. Many clinical studies with favorable conclusions for largely ineffective COVID-19 treatments are uncritically heavily cited and disseminated. Early observational studies and small randomized trials may cause spurious claims of effectiveness that get perpetuated.
There are no accessible files associated with this release. You could check other releases for this work for an accessible version.
Know of a fulltext copy of on the public web? Submit a URL and we will archive it
access all versions, variants, and formats of this works (eg, pre-prints)