How Voxelotor Benefits the Blood Shortage


The pandemic has burdened blood drives nationally. A new sickle cell drug keeps patients from needing as many transfusions.

At even the very beginning of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic reaching the US, emergent medicines and equipment were quickly lacking. As much stress was put on social distancing parameters and protocol to expedite promising agents against the virus, there was an even greater call for often relied-upon resources.

Take, for example, blood. By March 17, the American Red Cross announced a severe blood shortage due to mass cancellation of donor drives. The situation highlighted a significant issue now unique to the COVID-19 pandemic: the virus affected non-patients as severely as it does infected persons.

Blood transfusions, a routinely critical facet of sickle cell disease care, were at risk of lacking their most precious commodity.

One way to combat the matter was emphasizing use of therapies that reduced the need for transfusions. Newest sickle cell disease therapy voxelotor (Oxbryta) fit that bill.

In the next segment of an interview with HCPLive®, Richard Drachtman, MD, clinical section chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Medicine, discussed how the recently-approved agent came into benefit for prescribing early into the pandemic.

It’s already often the mindset of a hematologist to over-value donor blood. Once COVID-19 began to limit its availability further—especially in hard-hit areas including Drachtman’s New Brunswick, NJ—it became a responsibility to reduce the need for patient transfusions.

“Use of voxelotor has allowed me to do that,” Drachtman said. “In this time, it’s like ‘The Omega Man’ practicing medicine, driving to work in an empty town. It really has helped quite a bit.”

In Drachtman’s practice, patient volume has recently begun to increase. But transfusion need has remained low due to agents including voxelotor.

“It gives you one more option of being able to avoid transfusions in this one population of patients,” he said.

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