NIH and Gates Foundation aim to bring affordable gene therapies to Africa in 7 years

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Jansucko)
(Image: Getty/Jansucko)

Related tags Gene therapy Nih Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Africa

NIH and the Gates Foundation have set themselves the goal of bringing curative gene therapies to clinical trials in the US and Africa in the next seven to 10 years.

In order to support this aim, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will each provide $100m (€89m) over the next four years.

The partners state that the overall purpose of the project is to develop ‘affordable’ gene therapy-based cures for HIV and sickle cell disease (SCD), with the hope that cheaper treatments could be utilized in ‘low-resource settings’.

In the announcement​, it was stated that SCD and HIV disproportionately affect populations living in Africa or people of African descent.

As a result, both organizations have set a target of holding clinical trials for gene therapies in the US and sub-Saharan African countries, bringing therapies to areas of highest need.

Approximately 67% of the 38 million people living with HIV are located in sub-Saharan Africa, while 15 million babies are expected to be born with SCD over the next 30 years and, of those, 75% will occur in the region.

“In recent years, gene-based treatments have been groundbreaking for rare genetic disorders and infectious diseases,”​ said Trevor Mundel, president of global health program at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“While these treatments are exciting, people in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to these breakthroughs,”​ he continued.

The announcement was made one day after Novartis was able to beat analysts’ sales estimates​ for its $2.1m per treatment gene therapy, Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec). In total, the treatment brought in sales of $160m based on approximately 100 patients treated.

Such therapies are “largely inaccessible to most of the world”​ due to the complexity of the treatment and the cost, the partners stated.

It is anticipated that there will be crossover on the technical challenges for potential gene therapies to both conditions.

In particular, the project will require new delivery systems able to reach the correct location in the body, as well as targeting the cells related to the two diseases specifically.

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