Crizanlizumab, a “life-saving” drug for people with sickle cell disease (SCD), has been announced by the National Health Service (NHS) in England.
Crizanlizumab is expected to be delivered through transfusion drip and “works by binding to a protein in the blood cells to prevent the restriction of blood and oxygen supply that lead to a sickle cell crisis,” NHS said in a statement.
Approximately 5,000 people living in England will be treated with the drug in the next three years.
According to AFP, SCD is common in Africa, where up to 40 per cent of a country’s population can carry the mutated gene, though most never get ill.
It causes debilitating episodes of pain, known as vaso-occlusive crises. It could also lead to infection, organ damage, acute chest syndrome, and stroke.
Nigeria is considered the epicentre of the disease in the world.
“In sheer numbers, Nigeria has the largest number of sickle cell patients of any country in the world,” wrote Professor Olu Akinyanju, chairman of the Sickle Cell Foundation, in a paper published on the foundation’s website.
“Although countries around Nigeria also have an S gene carrier frequency of about 1 in 4 of their populations, Nigeria’s large population has ensured that over 40 million Nigerians are healthy carriers of the S gene,” Professor Akinyanju said.
“This number of carriers far exceeds the total population of every other affected African country and indeed, of several of them put together. Consequently, about 150,000 Nigerian children are born each year with sickle cell anaemia (HbSS), the prevailing type of sickle cell disorder (SCD) in this Region.”
According to studies, Crizanlizumab will reduce a sickle cell patient’s need to go to the Accident and Emergency Room (A&E) by half.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that SCD can only be cured through bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.
However, many Nigerians suffering from the disease cannot afford to seek curative treatment.
Additionally, the CDC said bone marrow is “very risky” and can have serious side effects, including death.