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A $5.4 Billion Deal Finally Brings Long-Ignored Disease Into Focus

Painful disorder that afflicts Black people was once neglected, now in Pfizer’s sights

Global Blood Therapeutics headquarters

Global Blood Therapeutics headquarters

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

It’s been more than seventy years since a renowned scientist first described the cause of a painful, sometimes lethal disorder that in the US afflicts mainly Black people. Finally big drugmakers are taking notice, culminating with Pfizer Inc.’s $5.4 billion acquisition of one of the more promising drugs to treat sickle cell disease. 

The drug giant’s purchase of Global Blood Therapeutics Inc. is the latest lap in a race to take on the inherited disorder in which a genetic mutation causes red blood cells to contort into crescents instead of full moons, preventing them from functioning properly. Global Blood makes Oxbryta, one of the few drugs approved to treat the disease, and is developing others.