Gene therapy can transform lives, but countries with a high burden of disease should play a role in developing these advanced healthcare technologies, said the World Economic Forum (WEF).

In fact, through the analysis of the experiences of five low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), including India, the WEF white paper outlines areas for countries to build on areas while designing their own roadmaps to gene therapy capacity-building.

Researchers have been applying gene therapies to multiple disease areas and infections, such as sickle cell disease and HIV. By making precise changes to the human genome, these sophisticated technologies could potentially lead to one-time, lifelong cures for dozens of diseases over the next decade.

As of mid-2022, more than 2,000 gene therapies were in development worldwide, contributing to a global market value that is expected to reach nearly $20 billion by 2027, said the note.

“Without concerted efforts to build gene therapy capacity in LMICs and to drive down costs, the global health divide will continue to widen. The gene therapy industry is in its infancy, but early clinical successes and substantial funding have generated enormous momentum. This is an ideal moment for LMICs to enter the global market, prioritising the needs of communities carrying the highest disease burdens,” said Shyam Bishen, WEF’s Head of Health and Healthcare.

Although disease burdens fall disproportionately on LMICs, the majority of gene therapy research and development and clinical testing has remained restricted to high-income countries, primarily the US and those in the EU, the paper noted.

Through expert-led analysis of experiences from India, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda — each focussed on different diseases — the paper outlined key pillars that countries can build on while designing strategies to make products tailored to their needs.

To develop, test and administer gene therapies, health systems must be equipped with advanced manufacturing, sophisticated hospital equipment, specially trained personnel and mature regulatory environments — a capacity that is largely lacking or absent in most LMICs — the paper said. The WEF note also pointed to the exorbitant costs of some of these treatments. Earlier this year, a gene therapy for a rare neurological disorder was priced at $3 million per treatment, beating the short-lived record of $2.8 million per shot for a rare blood disorder, it said.