New treatments promise sickle cell “cure” for all ages



Sickle cell research is booming after decades of stagnation, and talk of a cure is real, according to sickle cell disease expert Ifeyinwa (Ify) Osunkwo, MD.

“There is an opportunity to cure your disease no matter what age you are,” Dr. Osunkwo, medical director of the sickle cell program at Levine Cancer Institute at Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C., said in a video interview at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. “Sickle cell disease is now a disease of all ages and the treatments have to be treatments for everybody of all ages, not just for children.”

Dr. Osunkwo was the moderator of a press conference highlighting top research in sickle cell disease at ASH 2018. She pointed to findings from first-in-human trials of gene therapy using a lentiviral vector targeting BCL11A to reverse the sickle cell phenotype, as well as a study examining familial haploidentical stem cell transplantation with CD34 enrichment and mononuclear add-back in high-risk patients.

These two studies show parallel progress in curative therapies and are complementary, Dr. Osunkwo said. Improvements in transplants, and specifically in how patients are prepared and managed for them, will have a benefit in gene therapy.

But there are many other sickle cell disease studies being presented at ASH this year, she noted.

“There’s a recognition that sickle cell has been an understudied, underresourced, underexposed population,” she said. “And the suffering and the magnitude of medical problems is huge and it finally has bubbled up to the surface.”

Dr. Osunkwo reported being on advisory committees for Novartis and Pfizer and on the speaker’s bureau for Novartis. She has received honoraria from Terumo BCT and funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

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