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Sickle cell anemia blood under microscope

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Novartis and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are joining forces to discover and develop a gene therapy to cure sickle cell disease with a one-step, one-time treatment that is affordable and simple enough to treat patients anywhere in the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where resources may be scarce but disease prevalence is high.

The three-year collaboration, announced Wednesday, has initial funding of $7.28 million.

Current gene therapy approaches being developed for sickle cell disease are complex, enormously expensive, and bespoke, crafting treatments for individual patients one at a time. The collaboration aims to instead create an off-the-shelf treatment that bypasses many of the steps of current approaches, in which cells are removed and processed outside the body before being returned to patients.

Sickle cell’s cause is understood. The people it affects are known. But its cure has been elusive, Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, told STAT.

“We understand perfectly the disease pathway and the patient, but we don’t know what it would take to have a single-administration... see more