Novartis and its partners announced the expansion of the Africa Sickle Cell Disease program to East Africa with the signature of two new memoranda of understanding with the Ministries of Health of Uganda and Tanzania.
The program, aims to improve and extend the lives of people with sickle cell disease (SCD) in sub-Saharan Africa.
“In this time of worldwide uncertainty, it is even more important to support people living with chronic conditions like sickle cell disease,” said Dr. Patrice Matchaba, Group Head of Global Health & Corporate Responsibility at Novartis.”
Within the scope, Novartis and its partners intend to develop and implement a comprehensive approach that includes making diagnosis and treatment available, accessible and affordable for patients and their families; promoting scientific research, training and education; and pursuing robust monitoring and evaluation of the program.
Novartis has registered the medicine for the treatment of SCD in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
Hydroxyurea is a commonly used medicine for patients with SCD in developed countries, and is approved for use in both adults and children.
A recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicates that hydroxyurea is effective and safe in children with SCD in sub-Saharan Africa and reduces the incidence of pain events, malaria, blood transfusions, and death.
Novartis is continuing efforts to develop a child-friendly formulation of hydroxyurea and have announced plans to conduct two clinical trials in Ghana and Kenya for its next-generation treatment for SCD, crizanlizumab. Crizanlizumab, a novel targeted biologic therapy, is approved in a number of countries to reduce the number of pain crises in people with SCD.
The trials are expected to start in 2020; this will be the first time that a biologic therapy, which is not a vaccine, enters multicenter clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sickle cell disease is recognized by the World Health Organization as a public health priority and a neglected health problem in sub-Saharan Africa, which carries approximately 80% of the global disease burden.
In East Africa, the prevalence of the sickle cell gene is between 10 to 30%, while in some areas it is as high as 45%. It is estimated that approximately 1 000 children in Africa are born with SCD every day and more than half die before they reach five years of age.