Conference Coverage

Researchers seek more sickle cell drug research



Financial interests

Other drugs in testing for SCD include rivipansel from GlycoMimetics, for which Pfizer is leading development. The sponsors expect to complete the so-called RESET trial by 2019, according to the In this study, which is intended to enroll 350 participants, patients who have vaso-occlusive crises are randomly selected for treatment with either rivipansel or placebo.

Speaking during a question-and-answer session at the NIH conference, Robert Swift, PhD, said there’s a need for inexpensive oral drugs to treat SCD. Many other options will remain beyond the finances of people living in poor countries, he said.

“We need to focus not only on the root cause, but on something that is oral and inexpensive to solve the greater sickle cell problem,” Dr. Swift said.

Large drugmakers already have hospital-based sales forces, making SCD drugs administered in this setting attractive to them, he said.

“This is partly about where money is. The drug companies are going where the money is. It’s not oral drugs to treat everybody, it’s something else,” Dr. Swift said. “So someone else is going to have to fund the basic research” into treatments that could be more broadly used.

Dr. Swift said in an interview that he has received NIH funding for developing SCD-101, an oral drug, for which a placebo-controlled crossover study is underway.

Presenters at the NIH conference, including Dr. Saunthararajah, expressed frustration about what they see as relatively little work being done on SCD despite decades of knowledge about the root causes. Like Dr. Swift, he criticized the approach taken in selecting which treatments advance in this field.

“It’s not being driven by what is the most cost effective, what the patients need the most,” Dr. Saunthararajah said. “It’s driven by what will make the most money, not just for [the] drug company, but also for the hospital and also for the physicians.”

Dr. Saunthararajah reported having patents and patent applications around decitabine/tetrahydrouridine, 5-azacytidine/tetrahydrouridine, and differentiation therapy for oncology. He has also been a consultant for EpiDestiny, Novo Nordisk, and Takeda Oncology. Dr. Williams reported having no relevant financial disclosures. Dr. Swift is a managing member of Invenux and reported equity in Mast Therapeutics and SCD Development.

This article was updated on 11/9/2018.

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