The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will each invest $100 million over the next four years to speed the development of affordable gene therapies for sickle cell disease (SCD) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) on a global scale.
The collaboration between the NIH and the Gates Foundation sets out a bold goal of advancing safe, effective and durable gene-based cures to clinical trials in the United States and relevant countries in sub-Saharan Africa within the next seven to 10 years. The ultimate goal is to scale and implement these treatments globally in areas hardest hit by these diseases.
“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. “We aim to go big or go home.”
The collaboration will align aggressive, high-reward research efforts to accelerate progress on shared gene-based strategies to cure SCD and HIV. Both organizations also will continue to invest in other parallel research efforts on cures for SCD and HIV outside of this collaboration.
“In recent years, gene-based treatments have been groundbreaking for rare genetic disorders and infectious diseases,” said Trevor Mundel, M.D., Ph.D., President, Global Health Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “While these treatments are exciting, people in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to these breakthroughs. By working with the NIH and scientists across Africa, 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.”
SCD and HIV are major burdens on health in low-resource communities around the world. Approximately 95% of the 38 million people living with HIV globally are in the developing world, with 67% in sub-Saharan Africa, half of whom are living untreated. Fifteen million babies will be born with SCD globally over the next 30 years, with about 75% of those births occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 50-90% of infants born with SCD in low-income countries will die before their 5th birthday and SCD is identified as the underlying cause of about 1 in 12 newborn deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We are losing too much of Africa’s future to sickle cell disease and HIV“, said Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, regional director for Africa at the World Health Organisation. “Beating these diseases will take new thinking and long-term commitment. 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.“
“Yes, this is audacious“, Dr Collins said. “But if we don’t put our best minds, resources, and visions together right now, we would not live up to our mandate to bring the best science to those who are suffering.“