Chinese firm's COVID-19 drug claims draw skepticism

Chinese firm
# 14 May 2021 09:08 (UTC +04:00)

Chinese biotech firm Kintor Pharmaceutical Limited saw its stock price jump by more than 20% the day after it announced on April 25 that it had "completed the first patient enrollment and dosing" in a late-stage U.S. clinical trial of its experimental COVID-19 treatment, APA reports citing Reuters.

It was the company's latest announcement about the progress of the drug, Proxalutamide. The Hong Kong-listed company's stock price has nearly quadrupled since March 1 as some analysts wrote about the big sales potential for a COVID-19 treatment. Kintor has seen its market capitalization soar to HK$23.4 billion ($3 billion) from HK$6.6 billion on March 1.

But the company had not dosed any patients as of early May, according to the doctor Kintor identified as its principal clinical trial investigator in documents it posted on a U.S. trials website. The doctor - California-based gastroenterologist Zeid Kayali - also told Reuters he was "not in charge" of the trial, contradicting what the company had said in the documents describing the study. Kayali declined further comment, referring questions to Kintor.

Told of Kayali's comments, Kintor Chief Financial Officer Lucy Lu said Kayali was merely one of its trial investigators. She declined further comment on the firm's announcement on patient dosing. Lu declined as well to name a different principal investigator, or the institution overseeing the trial, calling that information "confidential."

Companies are not obliged to release such information. But many pharmaceutical firms routinely provide details about who is leading their clinical trial and which research organization or medical institution is responsible for ensuring patient safety and scientific validity.

Kintor's lack of transparency, along with inconsistencies in the company's statements, raise a "red flag" about the company's claims, said Stephen Ostroff, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief scientist and two-time acting FDA commissioner.

Another red flag: Kintor has repeatedly touted a Brazilian study of Proxalutamide that claimed an effectiveness rate so high that Ostroff and other pharmaceutical specialists say it is hard to believe.

The Brazil study said Proxalutamide showed a 92% reduction in mortality risk among hospitalized COVID-19 patients, which Ostroff said would be "breathtakingly extraordinary" if true.

Alexandre Cavalcanti, director of Sao Paulo's HCor Research Institute, called a presentation of the study's findings by its authors "amateur" and said its claimed reduction of mortality risk is too high to be credible in light of a global struggle to find effective COVID-19 treatments.

Kintor stock turned briefly negative in morning trade in Hong Kong, but was trading up more than 4% at 0303 GMT, putting it on course to its third straight session of gains.