Hydroxychloroquine in Patients with Rheumatic Disease Complicated by COVID-19: Clarifying Target Exposures and the Need for Clinical Trials

J Rheumatol. 2020 May 11:jrheum.200493. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.200493. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To characterize hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) exposure in patients with rheumatic disease receiving longterm HCQ compared to target concentrations with reported antiviral activity against the coronavirus disease 2019 caused by SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

Methods: We evaluated total HCQ concentrations in serum and plasma from published literature values, frozen serum samples from a pediatric systemic lupus erythematosus trial, and simulated concentrations using a published pharmacokinetic model during pregnancy. For each source, we compared observed or predicted HCQ concentrations to target concentrations with reported antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2.

Results: The average total serum/plasma HCQ concentrations were below the lowest SARS-CoV-2 target of 0.48 mg/l in all studies. Assuming the highest antiviral target exposure (total plasma concentration of 4.1 mg/l), all studies had about one-tenth the necessary concentration for in vitro viral inhibition. Pharmacokinetic model simulations confirmed that pregnant adults receiving common dosing for rheumatic diseases did not achieve target exposures; however, the models predict that a dosage of 600 mg once a day during pregnancy would obtain the lowest median target exposure for most patients after the first dose.

Conclusion: We found that the average patient receiving treatment with HCQ for rheumatic diseases, including children and non-pregnant/pregnant adults, are unlikely to achieve total serum or plasma concentrations shown to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 in vitro. Nevertheless, patients receiving HCQ long term may have tissue concentrations far exceeding that of serum/plasma. Because the therapeutic window for HCQ in the setting of SARS-CoV-2 is unknown, well-designed clinical trials that include patients with rheumatic disease are urgently needed to characterize the efficacy, safety, and target exposures for HCQ.