Doctor entering patient data online.

Battling Exorbitance: High Costs in Sickle Cell Gene Therapies and the Imperative of Global Patient Registries for Equity

Source: American Pharmaceutical Review

In recent years, transformative strides in the treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD) have materialized with the FDA’s approval of groundbreaking cell-based gene therapies. Notably, in December 2023, the FDA granted approval for Casgevy from Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) Therapeutics and Lyfgenia, by Bluebird Bio, for people aged 12 and older.1 This significant milestone represents a remarkable leap forward in our capacity to combat the complexities of sickle cell disease, offering newfound hope to individuals grappling with this often debilitating condition. However, as we celebrate these achievements, it’s crucial to acknowledge the parallel challenge posed by the high price tags associated with these cutting-edge therapies.

This article delves into the challenging landscape of biotech and pharma’s fight against exorbitant costs in sickle cell gene therapies, emphasizing the crucial role of global patient registries in achieving equity in access.

Exploring Recent FDA Approvals in Sickle Cell Gene Therapies, Innovation, Efficacy, and the Quest for Equitable Access

The innovative gene therapy treatments represent a departure from conventional approaches, offering a glimmer of hope for patients who have long grappled with the limitations of existing treatments. While their approval marks a milestone in medical advancement, the stark reality of their exorbitant costs casts a shadow over the accessibility of these groundbreaking therapies.

For instance, Vertex announced that Casgevy, one of the approved gene therapies, will be priced at $2.2 million, while Bluebird set the wholesale price of Lyfgenia at $3.1 million. The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, an entity advising drugmakers and payers, APR_March2024.indd 52 3/7/24 2:27 PM estimated an appropriate price for Casgevy would be between $1.35 million and $2.05 million per patient.2

The prohibitive costs associated with these gene therapies pose a formidable barrier to patient access. Recognizing the economic ramifications of such high prices is crucial in understanding the broader implications for individuals grappling with sickle cell disease. The financial burden imposed by these treatments exacerbates existing healthcare disparities, limiting access to those who stand to benefit the most. It raises pertinent questions about the equitable distribution of medical innovations and the imperative to navigate economic barriers to ensure that advancements in healthcare are not a privilege but a universal right.

In navigating this delicate intersection of medical innovation and economic accessibility, the central thesis of our exploration comes into focus – the indispensable role of global patient registries in advancing research and development, especially for rare conditions like sickle cell disease. As we delve deeper into this article, it becomes evident that the establishment and meticulous curation of these registries are not merely logistical necessities but ethical imperatives. They hold the key to unraveling the complexities of gene therapies, contributing to a better understanding of their efficacy, challenges, and, critically, their impact on diverse patient populations. Global patient registries emerge as catalysts for progress, bridging the gap between groundbreaking therapies and the imperative of ensuring they reach those who need them most.

Global Patient Registries in Increasing Access to Gene Therapies for Sickle Cell Disease

The landscape of gene therapies, particularly in the context of addressing complex conditions like sickle cell disease, necessitates a shift in how we approach research and development. Global patient registries stand out as indispensable tools in this transformative journey, playing a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of gene therapies and ensuring their efficacy on a broader scale.

At the heart of this necessity lies the fundamental requirement for global patient registries in advancing gene therapies. These comprehensive databases serve as reservoirs of invaluable information, uniting patient demographics, treatment outcomes, and genetic variations on an international scale. The global perspective they offer is crucial, especially in the context of rare conditions like sickle cell disease, where a more extensive and diverse dataset is imperative for robust research and development.

The contribution of global patient registries to research and development is profound. Their expansive datasets, comprising information from diverse ethnicities, geographical locations, and socio-economic backgrounds, facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of the intricacies surrounding gene therapies. A diverse and representative dataset is paramount in ensuring that the efficacy and safety of these therapies are not limited to specific populations, but rather universally applicable, thereby addressing health disparities and ensuring equitable access.3

One of the remarkable attributes of global patient registries is their capacity to explore disease heterogeneity. Sickle cell disease, for instance, exhibits variations in its manifestations among different populations. The staggering prevalence of sickle cell disease in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 236,000 babies are born with the condition each year, underscores the urgent need for a truly global approach.4 This region, often associated with the highest prevalence of the sickle cell trait, faces unique challenges in research and development, exacerbated by linguistic diversity.

Despite the substantial burden of sickle cell disease in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of affected newborns exceeds that in the United States by over 80 times, research efforts predominantly emanate from more developed regions.

Notably, SCD has a significant presence in India, with the real incidence and prevalence surpassing that of the United States. India has around 20 million patients living with SCD, which is approximately ten times more SCD patients than the U.S., and yet, a disproportionate amount of SCD research tends to concentrate in the U.S., reflecting a global research gap that needs urgent attention.

By inclusively capturing data from a multitude of regions and demographics, these registries enable researchers to delve into disease heterogeneity. This exploration is invaluable in tailoring gene therapies to be not only effective but also attuned to the diverse genetic makeup of individuals affected by these conditions.

Global patient registries also bridge linguistic gaps, especially in regions where English might not be the primary language. These registries leverage software tools and artificial intelligence offering a solution that transcends linguistic barriers and ensures accessibility for non-English speakers.5

Illustrating the potential insights unlocked by a globally inclusive approach, consider the scenario where a gene therapy demonstrates high efficacy in a specific regional registry. Without a global perspective, this success might be deemed universal, but global patient registries might reveal that the therapy’s effectiveness varies in different populations due to genetic diversity. Such insights are instrumental in refining and customizing gene therapies to ensure their effectiveness across various genetic backgrounds.

Moreover, the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of global patient registries starkly contrast to their regional counterparts. Building and maintaining individual registries for each region can be resource-intensive and may result in fragmented data. Global patient registries streamline this process, providing a centralized, cost-effective solution that avoids duplication of efforts.

The efficiency of these global databases is heightened by their ability to facilitate collaboration and data-sharing among researchers and institutions worldwide, fostering a collective approach to advancing gene therapies.

Read More: Transformative Impact: Global Patient Registries In Advancing Sickle Cell Research And Gene Therapies

Revolutionizing Gene Therapy Research: AI-Powered Inclusive Clinical Trials and Decentralized Approaches

The creation and maintenance of high-quality, inclusive global patient registries hinge on the capabilities of advanced software platforms, serving as the backbone for seamless data gathering and organization. These platforms play a pivotal role in revolutionizing the landscape of gene therapy research, particularly in addressing complex conditions like sickle cell disease.

Software platforms designed for inclusive registries excel in their ability to seamlessly gather and organize diverse data. Their inherent flexibility accommodates a vast array of demographic information, treatment outcomes, and genetic variations. This adaptability is crucial, especially in global patient registries aiming to capture the intricacies of diverse populations from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds affected by conditions such as sickle cell disease.

The dynamic nature of these platforms ensures that the data collected remains both comprehensive and relevant, fostering an understanding of the factors influencing gene therapy outcomes. They utilize advanced algorithms and data management protocols to ensure patient data privacy and data integrity while accommodating the diverse information inherent in global gene therapy research. The user-friendly interfaces of these platforms further contribute to their effectiveness, facilitating the seamless input and retrieval of information by researchers across the globe. Through centralized data storage and streamlined collaboration features, these platforms mitigate the resource-intensive nature of maintaining individual regional registries. This efficiency not only conserves valuable resources but also reduces the likelihood of fragmented or duplicated data, ensuring the integrity and reliability of the registries.

AI tools integrated into these software platforms implement large language models (LLMs), ensuring accessibility for participants globally, including those who are non-native speakers. This addresses a critical need for inclusivity, breaking down language and cultural barriers that may have traditionally hindered participation in clinical trials.6

The advent of decentralized clinical trials, made possible by these advanced software platforms, represents a groundbreaking shift. Patients can now actively participate in clinical trials from remote locations, eliminating the need for extensive travel. This not only reduces the burden on participants but also addresses financial strains associated with travel, making clinical trial participation more accessible.7

Real-time data monitoring is a hallmark feature enabled by these software platforms. The ability to monitor data in real-time enhances the efficiency and responsiveness of clinical trials, providing researchers with immediate insights. This dynamic monitoring capability not only ensures the integrity of the data but also allows for swift adjustments, optimizing the overall trial process.8

To conclude, the integration of AI tools into clinical trial software not only ensures inclusivity but also revolutionizes the way we approach gene therapy research. The real-time data monitoring, decentralized trial approach, and user-friendly interfaces collectively contribute to a more efficient, accessible, and globally impactful clinical trial landscape. This technological leap underscores a commitment to breaking down barriers and ensuring that the benefits of gene therapies reach diverse populations worldwide.

Harmonizing Gene Therapies: Global Collaboration, Government Cooperation, and Equitable Pricing Policies

Global collaboration and government cooperation are pivotal in rectifying biased datasets and ensuring the accessibility and affordability of gene therapy advancements for all affected communities. Biased datasets, often stemming from underrepresentation, can perpetuate healthcare inequities, emphasizing the urgency for collaborative efforts.

Effective collaboration addresses these challenges through various strategic approaches. Pooling diverse datasets on a global scale becomes possible. This encourages the aggregation of information from various demographic groups, representing the genetic diversity of the global population. This diversity is vital for identifying variations in treatment responses, ensuring gene therapies are universally effective.

Government cooperation is particularly crucial in establishing regulatory frameworks that prioritize inclusivity in clinical trials.9 By mandating diverse representation, governments contribute to ensuring that data reflects the real-world population. Incentives and initiatives can be implemented to address healthcare disparities in gene therapy, fostering an environment where advancements benefit all.

Knowledge exchange on a global scale is another facet of collaboration that enhances the quality and inclusivity of gene therapy research. Insights shared across borders prevent the perpetuation of biases and ensure that advancements are universally applicable. Collaborative conferences, such as the Indo-US Bridging Rare Summit in November 2024, bring together stakeholders from different regions, providing valuable perspectives on challenges faced by patients with conditions like sickle cell disease.10

Financial support is a critical aspect, and government cooperation is vital for creating funding mechanisms that support research and accessibility initiatives. Initiatives aimed at underrepresented populations can bridge gaps, and cooperative efforts can establish affordability frameworks for gene therapies. For instance, the Indian government’s commitment to eradicating sickle cell disease by 2047 aligns with the global goal of accessibility.

Global patient data privacy regulations must align with collaborative efforts, with local institutional review boards (IRBs) or ethics committees ensuring ethical and legal data exchange. Effective policies and regulatory measures are necessary, and governments play a crucial role in implementing changes and bringing novel drugs to the market.11 In the context of gene therapies, streamlined commercialization, and global availability rely on supportive policies and regulatory measures.

Governments can institute policies that prioritize affordability and accessibility, particularly for therapies targeting underserved populations.12 Pricing controls or negotiation of reimbursement agreements can be implemented to prevent excessive costs associated with innovative treatments. By assessing the value of a therapy in terms of its effectiveness, patient benefits, and societal impact, governments can contribute to keeping the cost of innovative treatments reasonable.

Moreover, transparency in pricing structures and promoting fair competition within the pharmaceutical industry are essential components of effective policymaking. These measures not only prevent monopolies but also create a competitive market environment that contributes to affordability. Governments can implement mechanisms to ensure that the pricing of gene therapies aligns with the broader goal of making healthcare accessible to all.

Incentives for treatments addressing unmet medical needs can also be incorporated into pricing policies. Extended exclusivity periods or research grants can encourage the development of therapies that specifically target conditions affecting marginalized or economically disadvantaged populations. This approach fosters innovation in areas that align with public health priorities and ensures that breakthrough treatments reach those who need them without imposing insurmountable financial burdens.

Global collaboration and government cooperation play a pivotal role in the broader strategy of balancing innovation with accessibility in the realm of gene therapies. By creating an environment that supports both research and equitable healthcare outcomes, governments contribute significantly to the realization of groundbreaking treatments that positively impact the lives of individuals in need.


The recent FDA approvals signify a breakthrough in sickle cell gene therapies, yet their high costs present formidable barriers to accessibility. This article highlights the vital role of global patient registries, stressing their importance in fostering inclusivity and efficiently organizing diverse data. Software platforms enhance this inclusiveness, ensuring representation across various demographics. The call for collaboration and government cooperation is paramount, exemplified by successful models balancing innovation with affordability. Urgency surrounds the need for an accessible healthcare landscape, urging stakeholders to unite in prioritizing equity. Navigating this complex terrain demands a collective commitment to transformative and accessible gene therapies for all affected communities.


FDA News Release, December 8, 2023, FDA Approves First Gene Therapies to Treat Patients with Sickle Cell Disease
Ned Pagliarulo, BioPharma Dive, 31 Jan 2024, New CMS pilot to test payment scheme for pricey sickle cell gene therapies.
Oktawia Borecka, et al, Future Rare Diseases, VOL. 2, NO. 4, Future Medicine, Sickle cell disease: a global patient registry review
Albert E. Zhou, M.D., Ph.D., et al, The New England Journal of Medicine, August 11, 2022, Perspective Bringing Sickle-Cell Treatments to Children in Sub-Saharan Africa, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp2201763
Scott Askin, et al, Springer Nature – PMC COVID-19 Collection, PMID: 36923325, Artificial Intelligence Applied to clinical trials: opportunities and challenges, Published online 2023 Feb 28. doi: 10.1007/s12553-023-00738-2
Jong-Lyul Ghim, et al, Translational and Clinical Pharmacology, Transforming clinical trials: the emerging roles of large language models, Published online 2023 Sep 19. doi: 10.12793/tcp.2023.31.e16
Joseph A. DiMasi, Springer Open Choice, Therapeutic Innovation and Regulatory Science, Assessing the Financial Value of Decentralized Clinical Trials, Published online 2022 Sep 14. doi: 10.1007/s43441-022-00454-5
Ojasav Sehrawat MBBS, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 98, Issue 9, September 2023, Data-Driven and Technology-Enabled Trial Innovations Toward Decentralization of Clinical Trials: Opportunities and Considerations,
Monique L. Anderson, M.D, The New England Journal of Medicine, Compliance with Results Reporting at, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa1409364
Indo US Bridging RARE Summit 2023, Connecting the Global Rare Disease Community
Geoffrey Kabue Kiriiri, Future Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Exploring different approaches to improve the success of drug discovery and development projects: a review, Published: 23 June 2020, Article number: 27 (2020)
Henry G. Grabowski, Medicare and Medicaid Research Review, Public Policy and Pharmaceutical Innovation,