New Research on COVID-19 and Immunosuppressive Medications May Provide Answers for People with Rheumatic Diseases


June 9, 2020 (Vancouver, BC) – Are people with Rheumatic Diseases who take immunosuppressive medications at a higher risk of getting COVID-19? Do people with Rheumatic Diseases who have COVID-19 and who are on immunosuppressive medications have better or worse outcomes from COVID-19? New research in motion may provide answers for patients.

A population-based study by Arthritis Research Canada will explore the connection between immunosuppressive medications and COVID-19 risk in patients with inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.

People with rheumatic diseases are considered to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as a result of the immunosuppressive they receive to manage and control their symptoms. These medications work by weakening or suppressing the immune system therefore lowering its ability to fight off viruses or bacterial infections.

Currently, there’s limited data on the implications of COVID-19 in these patients. Dr. Antonio Aviña-Zubieta, Senior Research Scientist at Arthritis Research Canada and his team are interested in finding out how immunosuppressive medications may or may not contribute to the risk of infection and to disease severity.

“Many arthritis patients that are on immunosuppressive medications fear they are more susceptible to COVID-19 and are more likely to develop a more severe infection if contracted,” Dr. Aviña-Zubieta mentioned. “It’s important that we gain a rapid understanding of how these medications interact with the virus itself as well as their impact on outcomes.”

The research team will use anonymous B.C health data to look at all people with COVID-19 that have rheumatic disease arthritis, cancer or an organ implant and are taking powerful immune suppressing medications. For comparison, they will also assess whether this group of people are more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than people with COVID-19 not receiving these medications.

“The number of cases may be slowing down B.C, but we’re still at risk of a second wave. We hope this research will be able to tell us if immunocompromised patients should be prioritized to receive the vaccination first,” said Dr. Aviña-Zubieta.

Furthermore, the findings of this study will help the healthcare system and professionals to better prepare and proactively respond to the next wave of COVID-19, and provide the most appropriate treatment option for people who are immunocompromised with rheumatologic conditions.

Funding for this project is provided by Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.




Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research institution in North America. Our mission is to transform the lives of people living with arthritis through research and engagement. Led by world-renowned rheumatologist, Dr. John Esdaile, Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific team of over 100 are creating a future where people living with arthritis are empowered to triumph over pain and disability. Within British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, Arthritis Research Canada is leading research aimed at arthritis prevention, early diagnosis, new and better treatment, and improved quality of life.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:  

Marketing & Communications
Arthritis Research Canada
604-207-4010 or mc@arthritisresearch.ca

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