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This could be the next $1 billion drug, if patients get on board

Individuals with sickle cell disease compare its painful attacks to a drill going through an arm. Female patients say they prefer childbirth.

The pain can last hours or weeks. Attacks happen several times a year—and there is no treatment.

Pfizer Inc.’s drug, rivipansel, could change that, doing a lot of good for patients and their quality of life in the process.

But the last clinical trial for rivipansel took three years to enroll 75 people, and the phase 3 trial would enroll almost five times as many patients. Though clinical trials can drag on for many years, nine years was too long, as far as Pfizer PFE, -1.87% management was concerned.

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