The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking expert opinions on a potential breakthrough in the treatment of sickle-cell disease, an ailment that has plagued people of African descent for generations. Developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Crispr Therapeutics, the "exa-cel" therapy is set to become America's first FDA-approved genetic treatment for the disorder.
With exa-cel, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Crispr Therapeutics aim to unleash the revolutionary potential of Crispr technology. Crispr, a Nobel Prize-winning gene-editing technique, is capable of targeting problematic segments of a cell's DNA and disrupting their harmful effects. Its application in treating sickle-cell disease could potentially eliminate the agonizing symptoms and mortality associated with the disorder.
On Tuesday, a panel of about a dozen medical experts will convene as part of an advisory committee to weigh in on the exa-cel therapy. The committee will begin the session at 9 a.m., listening to presentations from both companies, FDA reviewers, and gene-editing experts. Their primary objective will be to provide the agency with any concerns or issues regarding exa-cel.
Preparatory documents posted by the FDA do not indicate significant concerns about exa-cel. Analyst Sami Corwin from William Blair believes that these documents paint a positive picture for the upcoming meeting and exa-cel's potential approval as a treatment for sickle-cell disease and beta thalassemia, another blood disorder requiring lifelong transfusions.
Corwin had previously questioned whether the FDA might harbor any doubts about the safety and effectiveness of Crispr therapy. However, it appears that these concerns have been adequately addressed. Although the FDA reviewers intend to seek input from advisors regarding off-target DNA edits performed during the development of exa-cel, they will not request a vote on the treatment's proven effectiveness.
A Promising Breakthrough for Sickle Cell Patients
Patients with sickle cell disease and thalassemia may have a new glimmer of hope with the potential approval of exa-cel, a breakthrough genetic treatment. The positive results of clinical trials have caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who see great potential in this therapy.
Seeking a One-Time Solution
While there are existing drugs available for sickle cell patients, they often require ongoing treatments. Therefore, the possibility of a one-time fix for genetic disorders like sickle cell excites patients. Consequently, the approval of exa-cel, and other genetic treatments in development, would be highly anticipated.
Despite the promising results, the approval of exa-cel has not had a significant impact on the stock market for Vertex and Crispr Therapeutics. These companies have seen minimal changes in their stock values compared to the overall market performance.
Factors Hindering Widespread Adoption
There are factors that contribute to the stock market's cautious approach to exa-cel. First, the treatment's complexity limits its availability to specialized transplant centers. Additionally, the expected high price tag, potentially exceeding $1 million, poses challenges for Medicaid programs that cover many sickle cell patients.
Slow Uptake Predicted
According to RBC analyst Luca Issi, the adoption of an approved exa-cel therapy may be slow. The revenue boost for Crispr Therapeutics and Vertex, as well as their shares, will likely take considerable time. Despite this, exa-cel is just the beginning of a new era of gene-editing treatments. Ongoing research efforts hold promise for more affordable and less complex solutions for genetic diseases like sickle cell.