Voxelotor: alteration of sickle cell disease pathophysiology by a first-in-class polymerization inhibitor

Alexander K. Glaros, Reza Razvi, Nirmish Shah, Ahmar U. Zaidi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Sickle cell disease, despite its recognition as a severely debilitating genetic condition affecting hundreds of thousands of neonates throughout the world each year, was not a target of pharmaceutical research focus for most of its 100-year existence in the medical consciousness. This has changed in recent years as many novel therapeutics are currently under investigation, with three new disease-modifying drugs achieving FDA approval in the last 4 years. One of these drugs, voxelotor, is especially encouraging as an inhibitor of sickling for its ability to safely improve the chronic hemolytic anemia of sickle cell disease. This was demonstrated during all clinical phases of investigation by an average improvement in hemoglobin of greater than 1 g/dL, as well as statistically significant improvements in established markers of hemolysis. While anemia itself represents a potential cause of morbidity, it is more importantly a marker of the hemolysis known to cause the long-term vascular and organ damage that makes sickle cell disease so debilitating and frequently fatal early in life. Given the recency of the approval, there has not been sufficient long-term follow-up to demonstrate improvement in the chronic sequelae of sickle cell disease as a result of voxelotor-induced improvements in hemolytic anemia. There is hope, however, based on the experience with hydroxyurea improving morbidity and mortality via reductions in sickling and improved rheology, that voxelotor may have similar long-term benefits by positively manipulating the kinetics of hemoglobin polymerization. This review aims to summarize the targeted pathobiology of sickle cell disease, the mechanism of action of voxelotor, and the safety and efficacy data from preclinical to late clinical stage investigations of this long-awaited medication, in the hopes of better informing the decision-making process behind prescribing or not prescribing it for patients in need of intervention.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Hematology
StatePublished - 2021


  • Sickle cell disease
  • hemoglobin polymerization
  • novel therapeutics
  • voxelotor


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