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Children's Hospital Joins Forces With Swiss Company To Combat Sickle Cell Disease

sickle cell injection
Dick Whipple
A sickle cell disease patient is given an injection for pain relief by a nurse

Cincinnati Children's is partnering with the Swiss company Roivant on a new venture called Aruvant Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company focusing on innovative gene therapies for hematological conditions such as sickle cell disease. Terms of the deal aren't disclosed in the news release, however, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports it's the hospital's biggest commercialization deal ever.

The deal also includes the formation of a new nonprofit called Roivant Foundation, which has a mission of improving access to medical care for patients with sickle cell disease in the developing world.

Sickle cell disease is an incurable, inherited red blood cell disorder that is often life-threatening. According to the American Society of Hematology, the life expectancy of someone with sickle cell disease is 42-47 years and disproportionally affects African-Americans. 

"The lead candidate in Aruvant's pipeline, RVT-1801, is an investigational gene therapy for sickle cell disease and ?-thalassemia," the company wrote in a release. "RVT-1801 utilizes proprietary technology intended to increase functioning red blood cells by inserting a modified fetal hemoglobin gene into autologous stem cells through a lentiviral vector ... RVT-1801 is the only known clinical-stage gene therapy to deliver the gene encoding fetal hemoglobin, which has been modified to optimize oxygen carrying capacity and anti-sickling properties." 

The therapy was developed by Dr. Punam Malik, director of the Cincinnati Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Children's. "Treating sickle cell anemia and ?-thalassemia has been my passion since I first trained as a physician in India," Dr. Malik said in a release. 

That's not Aruvant's only connection to Cincinnati. Roivant founder and CEO Vivek Ramaswamy is a Cincinnati native who graduated as valedictorian of St. Xavier High School in 2003, the Courier reports. He grew up in Evendale, where his father worked for GE Aviation and his mother as a geriatric psychologist for nursing homes. 

The Courier adds that a headquarters site hasn't been determined, but hopes to be situated in the Uptown Innovation Corridor. 

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.
Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU.