A new public-private collaboration is devoting both dollars and resources to develop gene-based cures for sickle cell disease (SCD) and HIV.
The National Institutes for Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation each pledged to devote $100 million towards the goal of finding an affordable and globally available cure. The collaboration will use an aggressive approach that seeks to capitalize on shared gene-based strategies, which will be applied in disproportionately impacted regions while still pursuing parallel lines of research.
“This unprecedented collaboration focuses from the get-go on access, scalability and affordability of advanced gene-based strategies for sickle cell disease and HIV to make sure everybody, everywhere has the opportunity to be cured, not just those in high-income countries,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D in a recent press release. “We aim to go big or go home.”
Unlike HIV, which is an acquired virus, SCD is genetically-inherited. Though each present different scientific challenges, many of the technical research is expected to be common for both conditions.
The goal of the collaboration is to focus efforts and apply solutions where they are most needed. Low-resource communities globally face significant burdens from SCD and HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately impacted with 67 percent of people living with HIV located in the region, and half of these individuals live untreated. Seventy-five percent of infants born with SDC occur in the same region.
“While these treatments are exciting, people in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to these breakthroughs,” explained Trevor Mundel, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We aim to ensure these approaches will improve the lives of those most in need and bring the incredible promise of gene-based treatments to the world of public health.”
There will be two areas of coordination in the collaboration. The first is to identify shared potential candidate cures for pre-clinical and clinical evaluation, followed by defining long-term opportunities to advance potential cures into trial testing with their African counterparts.
“Beating these diseases will take new thinking and long-term commitment,” said Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, M.B.B.S., the regional director for Africa at the World Health Organization regarding the double-threat of SCD and HIV among the African population. “I’m very pleased to see the innovative collaboration announced today, which has a chance to help tackle two of Africa’s greatest public health challenges.”