Therapeutic strategies for sickle cell disease: towards a multi-agent approach

Marilyn J. Telen, Punam Malik, Gregory M. Vercellotti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


For over 100 years, clinicians and scientists have been unravelling the consequences of the A to T substitution in the β-globin gene that produces haemoglobin S, which leads to the systemic manifestations of sickle cell disease (SCD), including vaso-occlusion, anaemia, haemolysis, organ injury and pain. However, despite growing understanding of the mechanisms of haemoglobin S polymerization and its effects on red blood cells, only two therapies for SCD — hydroxyurea and l-glutamine — are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, these treatment options do not fully address the manifestations of SCD, which arise from a complex network of interdependent pathophysiological processes. In this article, we review efforts to develop new drugs targeting these processes, including agents that reactivate fetal haemoglobin, anti-sickling agents, anti-adhesion agents, modulators of ischaemia–reperfusion and oxidative stress, agents that counteract free haemoglobin and haem, anti-inflammatory agents, anti-thrombotic agents and anti-platelet agents. We also discuss gene therapy, which holds promise of a cure, although its widespread application is currently limited by technical challenges and the expense of treatment. We thus propose that developing systems-oriented multi-agent strategies on the basis of SCD pathophysiology is needed to improve the quality of life and survival of people with SCD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
JournalNature Reviews Drug Discovery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was partially supported by the following grant awards from the US National Institutes of Health: R21DK106509 (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; to M.J.T.), U01-HL117709 and RO1-HL112603 (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI); to P.M.) and R01HL114567 (NHLBI; to G.M.V.). M.J.T. and P.M. also received support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

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