By Angelica Peebles
It’s been more than 70 years since a renowned scientist first described the cause of a painful, sometimes lethal disorder that in the U.S. afflicts mainly Black people. Finally, big drugmakers are taking notice, culminating with Pfizer’s $5.4 billion acquisition of one of the more promising drugs to treat sickle cell disease.
The drug giant’s purchase of Global Blood Therapeutics is the latest lap in a race to take on the inherited disorder in which a genetic mutation causes red blood cells to contort into crescents instead of full moons, preventing them from functioning properly. Global Blood makes Oxbryta, one of the few drugs approved to treat the disease, and is developing others.
In the past decade, sickle cell has gone from an overlooked affliction to one with so many drugs in development it’s hard to keep track. Just a few years ago, the only drug was hydroxyurea, a cancer therapy that also prevents blood cells from deforming. Today, roughly 30 drugs are in human trials, with the same number in early phases of research, according to a Bloomberg analysis of SpringerNature data. Some of the emerging treatments use cutting-edge science like Crispr, a tool for editing genes.
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