The Impact of Antimalarial Drugs in Arthritis Patients Exposed to COVID-19


Study Title:

The impact of antimalarial drugs in arthritis patients exposed to SARS-CoV-2 – the CoVIRAL project.


Principal Investigator: 

Paul Fortin MD, MPH, FRCPC Tenured Professor, Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Université Laval; Canada Research Chair on Systemic Autoimmune Rheumatic Diseases; Clinician-Scientist, Centre de recherche du CHU de Québec-Université Laval; Senior Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada


Start Date:

July 2020


End Date:

June 2022


Why do this research?

The current pandemic offers a chance to improve our understanding of how infections such as COVID-19 affect patients with autoimmune inflammatory diseases. We can assess the impact of the medication used to treat their disease on infection and how infections affect their psychological health. 

Patients with autoimmune inflammatory diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) have weakened immune systems which can lead to damage of healthy tissues and organs. Treatments rely on the long-term use of antimalarial (AM) drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. It is not known whether SLE and RA patients are at more risk for or protected against developing severe complications of viral infections such as COVID-19 or how treatment with AM drugs affects that risk.

Canada is well suited to do this research because we have several ongoing research studies that follow people with RA and SLE who take these AM drugs. Also, we have a current bank of blood samples from these patients, collected before COVID-19. As a result, the researchers have a baseline to see who becomes infected with the virus and how the AM drugs affect the infection.

This research will create a collection of biological samples that we could use to answer questions like: 1) How do genetic differences in people affect the severity of disease and 2) How will compromised immune systems react to a new vaccine?

Canadian researchers will be able to do this research quickly, safely, accurately and collaboratively across the country without affecting the supply of these drugs because these patients are already taking them.


What will be done?

Researchers from hospitals and universities across Canada will follow 3,000 people with RA and SLE. They will compare those already taking AM drugs to those who are not to assess how the novel coronavirus (and other infections like it), affect the two groups. Patients will be asked to answer questionnaires online in the first year of the study and then come back for a blood test and answer further questionnaires in the following two years.

This research will:

  • Determine whether patients on AM will be protected from severe disease.
  • See if patients with SLE experience increases in stress and anxiety during this period.
  • Model who is at risk for more severe COVID-19 disease.
  • Learn about the psychosocial impact of a serious infection in vulnerable population of people with arthritis.


Who is on the research team?


Éric Boilard PhD

Deborah Da Costa, PhD, Scientist, Research Institute, McGill University Health Centre, Metabolic Disorders and Complications Program, Centre for Outcomes Research and Evaluation; Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Research Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada

Patient Partners:

Patient Advisory Committee 

Mame-Awa Ndiaye     RA

Marie-Claude Beaulieu     RA

Jean Légaré     RA

Hélène Garceau     Lupus

Lindsay     Lupus

Eileen Davidson     RA


Funding Agency:

The Arthritis Society