Study Shows Biologic Anti-Rheumatic Medications May Increase Infection Risk Among Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients

April 25, 2023 (Vancouver, BC) Major advances have been made in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis including the introduction of biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (biologics). These drugs target very specific parts of the immune system and are highly effective at suppressing inflammation and preventing joint damage. However, a new study conducted by Arthritis Research Canada scientists associates the introduction of biologics with an increased risk of hospitalized infections in individuals newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

This research used British Columbia’s administrative health data from 1990 to 2015, which includes anonymous information about all provincially funded health care services in BC. The comparison group consisted of 60,226 people with rheumatoid arthritis and 588,499 people from the general population without diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis. Following both groups for eight years, this study compared the risk of severe infections, which require hospitalization or occur while in hospital, between people with rheumatoid arthritis onset before and after the introduction of biologics in the market, and the general population.

“Our findings suggest that the risk of severe infections is higher in people with rheumatoid arthritis onset after biologics became available,” said Vivienne Zhou, Research Trainee at Arthritis Research Canada.

The study found that during the rate of infections increased over time among people with rheumatoid arthritis onset after the introduction of biologics, while there was no change in rate of infections among the general population over the same time period.

“Strengths of the study include the large number of people, representing the entire population of BC, followed over time. We also used an advanced statistical method called an interrupted time-series design.” said Hui Xie, Research Scientist at Arthritis Research Canada’s.

“Deciding to prescribe or take a medication involves weighing the risks and benefits, this information is important for physicians and patients with rheumatoid arthritis, to help them make an informed decision,” said Diane Lacaille, scientific Arthritis Research Canada’s Scientific Director.

To learn more about this research please click here.



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. Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific director, Dr. Diane Lacaille is leading a team of over 100 researchers, trainees and staff whose life-changing research is creating a future where people living with arthritis have the knowledge and tools to triumph over pain and disability. Arthritis Research Canada is now conducting arthritis research from coast to coast with centres in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and Nova Scotia and scientists affiliated with six major universities: University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, Université Laval, McGill University, and Dalhousie University. Arthritis Research Canada is leading research aimed at preventing arthritis, facilitating early diagnosis, finding new and better treatments, and improving quality of life.

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

Victoria Rubio
Marketing and Communications Coordinator
Arthritis Research Canada
604-207-4010 or vrubio@arthritisresearch.ca

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