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Crizanlizumab for People With Sickle Cell Disease

Reviewed by: Corinna L. Schultz, MD

What Is Crizanlizumab?

Crizanlizumab is a medicine that can help people who get a lot of pain crises from sickle cell disease.

The medicine works by preventing blood cells from sticking to the inside walls of blood vessels. People who take crizanlizumab have less pain and need to make fewer trips to the hospital.

What Happens in Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease makes red blood cells become C-shaped, like the shape of a sickle, instead of round. Sickle-shaped cells and other cells get stuck and block the blood flowing inside small blood vessels. Blockages are painful and can lead to other problems that need to be treated in the hospital.

Sickle cells also break down more quickly than healthy red blood cells. Having too few red blood cells can lead to anemia. People with anemia feel tired and have less energy.

How Does Crizanlizumab Help People With Sickle Cell Disease?

Crizanlizumab (pronounced: kriz-an-LIZ-uh-mab) slows or stops red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets from sticking to each other and to the inside of blood vessel walls. People who take crizanlizumab may have fewer pain crises and spend less time in the hospital.

Who Can Take Crizanlizumab?

People 16 years or older can take crizanlizumab. Doctors are studying if it is safe for younger people.

You can take crizanlizumab whether or not you already take the medicine hydroxyurea for sickle cell disease.

What's It Like to Take Crizanlizumab?

Crizanlizumab is given by infusion. This means the medicine is put into a person's vein through an IV, which is a small tube. The IV is placed into the vein with a small needle, then the needle is removed, leaving the tube there. When the dose of crizanlizumab is done (after about 30 minutes), the IV is removed.

People get it once a month at a doctor’s office, an infusion center, or the “outpatient” part of a hospital, depending on their insurance. When a person starts on crizanlizumab, they need 2 visits the first month, then a monthly visit after that.

Does Crizanlizumab Cause Side Effects?

Most people who take crizanlizumab do well and don’t notice any side effects. Rarely someone might have a reaction to the IV infusion (nausea, fever, back pain, or joint pain). Slowing down the IV can sometimes reduce mild symptoms.

How Much Does Crizanlizumab Cost?

The cost of the medicine depends on your insurance. Insurance often covers the cost if a person already takes the medicine hydroxyurea but still has pain. Insurance may also pay for crizanlizumab if a person isn’t able to take hydroxyurea at all. Your doctor’s office can help you find out what your costs would be. Programs are available that might help pay for out-of-pocket costs.

When you think about costs, it helps to compare the planned costs of taking crizanlizumab with the unplanned costs of not taking it. Pain crises and anemia can lead to ER visits, hospital stays, and missed days of work or school. Besides making a person feel bad, these problems can be expensive.

When deciding what’s best for you, ask yourself questions like:

  • How much will crizanlizumab cost me?
  • How much will my care cost if I need treatment for a problem from sickle cell disease?

If your care team recommends crizanlizumab, talk to them about it. Ask questions. Share any concerns. Talk it over with a parent too. Soon you’ll be ready to make a choice you can feel good about.

Date reviewed: December 2022