Health & Fitness

Help is on the way for sickle cell patients

The sickle cell disease can have life-threatening impact for patients [Alamy/PA] ©(c) provided by Pulse Nigeria

A new cure for sickle cell disease is on the way, it may be too expensive

A gene editing treatment considered a game-changer for people living with sickle cell disease is under consideration to be approved in the United States before the end of 2023.

A gene editing treatment considered a game-changer for people living with sickle cell disease is under consideration to be approved in the United States before the end of 2023.

A gene editing treatment considered a game-changer for people living with sickle cell disease is under consideration to be approved in the United States before the end of 2023.

Related video: Family of toddler cured of sickle cell spreads the word about treatment 

How does the treatment work?

The treatment starts with the removal of stem cells from the blood, and the cells are sent for treatment. This is followed by intensive chemotherapy to cleanse the bone marrow before injecting the treated cells into the patient. The patient is then required to stay at the hospital for at least one month while the treated cells repopulate the bone marrow.

A sickle cell disease patient receiving a blood transfusion to alleviate his pain at a hospital [Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service, via Getty Images]© Pulse Nigeria

According to the NYT report, there are still questions about how quickly production can scale. Notably, Vertex’s sickle cell disease treatment is expensive and expected to cost millions of dollars per patient.

In addition, only medical professionals with extensive training in a variety of modern procedures are qualified to provide the treatment and care necessary for a successful procedure.

Who will get treatment?

The cocktail of problems the new treatment already faces will not come as a relief for millions of patients who live in developing countries and are less likely to be able to afford the treatment.

More than 66% of the 120 million people affected worldwide by sickle cell disease live in Africa, especially Nigeria, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2022. An estimated 1,000 children are born with the disease every day on the continent, and more than half of them die before they reach the age of five, usually from infection or severe anaemia.

The only other known cure for sickle cell disease currently is a blood and bone marrow transplant; finding a donor can be an impossible task. But the success of the Vertex treatment may open the door for similar treatments.

Another application for sickle cell gene therapy treatment, by Bluebird Bio, will be decided by the FDA on December 20, while two other companies and an academic centre are also testing their own sickle cell gene therapy treatments.

Vertex is also developing another ambitious treatment that would deliver gene editing in a pill.

Credit: Pulse Nigeria

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