Hydroxychloroquine: Common Lupus Drug in Testing for COVID-19
Hydroxychloroquine: Common Lupus Drug in Testing for COVID-19

March 19, 2020

In December 2019, a new virus called SARS-COV-2 was identified in Wuhan, China. This virus was found to cause a severe respiratory illness in patients which was later named after the type of virus that caused it and the year it was identified (coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19)1 Currently there is no drug specifically designed to treat COVID-19.  However, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to expand, researchers across the globe are hard at work investigating options for new therapies.

Are drugs being tested to treat COVID-19?

Instead of starting from scratch, one strategy scientists often use is to explore whether currently available drugs can be used against a new disease threat, which in this case is SARS-COV-2.

In the process of testing several different drugs, scientists found that one drug, chloroquine, originally developed to treat malaria, had the ability to block SARS-COV-2 from infecting cells in the lab.2  Clinicians then tested the chloroquine treatment in 100 patients diagnosed with severe forms of COVID-19 and reported that patients given chloroquine recovered faster and had less severe symptoms than patients who did not receive this treatment.3

Hydroxychloroquine (also known by its brand name of Plaquenil) is very similar to chloroquine and in the lab, scientists have found that hydroxychloroquine may be even better than chloroquine in preventing SARS-COV-2 infection of cells.4 

What could this mean for people with lupus?

While the original study of 100 patients is encouraging, scientists do not yet know if Plaquenil can treat COVID-19. It is also unknown if people taking Plaquenil for conditions such as lupus will be protected from the virus. Scientists are doing lab experiments and clinical trials to investigate these types of questions. They are also looking at other drugs as potential treatment options.

Research is moving very quickly. The World Health Organization announced March 18 a global “Solidarity Trial” to test which drugs may be most effective against the virus. We will keep you updated on this and other developments in the research fight against COVID-19.

Should I start taking Plaquenil “just in case” it will help protect me?

All patients should follow the guidelines from their official medical provider.  It is not recommended that you make any changes to your treatment plan without first speaking to your provider.

Where can I go for more information about COVID-19?

Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for the most updated and reputable information about COVID-19

You can also check out our LRA site for information that may apply to lupus patients.


  1. Wu, Y., Ho, W., Huang, Y., Jin, D. Y., Li, S., Liu, S. L., … & Yuen, K. Y. (2020). SARS-CoV-2 is an appropriate name for the new coronavirus. The Lancet.
  2. Wang, M., Cao, R., Zhang, L., Yang, X., Liu, J., Xu, M., … & Xiao, G. (2020). Remdesivir and chloroquine effectively inhibit the recently emerged novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in vitro. Cell research, 30(3), 269-271.
  3. Gao, J., Tian, Z., & Yang, X. (2020). Breakthrough: Chloroquine phosphate has shown apparent efficacy in treatment of COVID-19 associated pneumonia in clinical studies. BioScience Trends.
  4. Yao, X., Ye, F., Zhang, M., Cui, C., Huang, B., Niu, P.. & Zhan, S. (2020). In Vitro Antiviral Activity and Projection of Optimized Dosing Design of Hydroxychloroquine for the Treatment of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
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