NEW YORK, March 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- The Lupus Research Alliance (LRA), the world's leading research organization dedicated to lupus research, continues to watch rapidly changing developments regarding COVID-19 and is closely monitoring the policies and actions of the federal government, healthcare agencies, medical organizations and the pharmaceutical industry on behalf of people with lupus. Thrust into the spotlight has been news about the potential benefit of anti-malarial drugs commonly used for lupus, hydroxychloroquine (brand name Plaquenil) and chloroquine, in treating COVID-19. With that, shortages have quickly emerged.
The LRA is issuing this statement to assure the lupus community that: (1) the organization is working with all relevant parties to alleviate the Plaquenil shortage and (2) to reassure the community that if they can't get Plaquenil refilled temporarily as a result of the shortage, there are other treatments that can be discussed with their physician.
Anecdotal evidence from small studies found that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine may reduce symptoms of COVID-19 and slow down replication of the virus. While these drugs are not officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19, some physicians are treating patients with Plaquenil on an "off-label" basis.
Given this extraordinary development, shortages of Plaquenil have ensued. In many pharmacies, especially in New York and California, the drug has been unavailable.
The LRA and other organizations in rheumatology have urged the FDA to address the shortages, and the past few days have brought some good news including: commitment from the FDA to preserve supplies of hydroxychloroquine for patients already taking it, as well as a dramatic increase in the manufacture of these drugs and donations by a number of pharmaceutical companies.
In addition, the LRA is a sponsor of the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, a grassroots group led by rheumatologists and uniting rheumatologists and patients with rheumatic diseases worldwide to respond to the global pandemic. In concert with the American College of Rheumatology, the group's mission is to create a secure international data registry called the COVID-19 Rheumatology Registry. It is designed for healthcare providers to share their experience treating specific cases of people with rheumatologic conditions such as lupus who develop COVID-19. Reporting will also record how common rheumatic medications like Plaquenil impact patients' outcomes and evaluate the risk of infection in patients on immunosuppression. The de-identified information collected in this registry will be shared with the scientific community for analysis. A patient-entered registry component is currently under development.
Lupus Management Can Weather Temporary Shortage
In consulting with top lupus physicians and reviewing the scientific literature, the LRA also seeks to reassure people with lupus who are not taking Plaquenil or taking a lower dose for a short period of time is concerning but not cause for alarm.
"We are doing everything in our power to prevent a Plaquenil shortage from impacting the care of people with lupus," commented LRA President & CEO Ken Farber. "But I also want to allay the fears we are hearing from people with lupus."
"Many of the latest developments to address COVID-19 shortages have been encouraging," noted renowned lupus specialist Daniel J. Wallace, MD, FACP, MACR, Associate Director, Rheumatology Fellowship Program, David Geffen School of Medicine Center at UCLA in affiliation with Attune Health and LRA Board of Directors member, "We are working hard to support the needs of people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Many pharmacies have banded together to guarantee a Plaquenil supply to patients with proof by their rheumatologist that they have these conditions and are currently on the drug. Pharmaceutical companies are also increasing production."
The Lupus Research Alliance will continue to monitor the situation closely and push for continued access for people with lupus while working to ensure shortages abate in the future.
Lupus is a chronic, complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. More than 90% of people with lupus are women; lupus most often strikes during the childbearing years of 15-45. African Americans, Latinx, Asians and Native Americans are two to three times at greater risk than Caucasians. In lupus, the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, creates antibodies that can attack any part of the body including the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints.
About the Lupus Research Alliance
The Lupus Research Alliance aims to transform treatment while advancing toward a cure by funding the most innovative lupus research in the world. The organization's stringent peer review grant process fosters diverse scientific talent who are driving discovery toward better diagnostics, improved treatments and ultimately a cure for lupus. Because the Lupus Research Alliance's Board of Directors fund all administrative and fundraising costs, 100 percent of all donations goes to support lupus research programs.
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SOURCE Lupus Research Alliance