Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited disorders affecting red blood cells, which is caused by a single mutation that results in substitution of the amino acid valine for glutamic acid in the sixth position of the β-globin chain of hemoglobin. These mutant hemoglobin molecules, called hemoglobin S, can polymerize upon deoxygenation, causing erythrocytes to adopt a sickled form and to suffer hemolysis and vaso-occlusion. Until recently, only two drug therapies for SCD, which do not even fully address the manifestations of SCD, were approved by the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration. A third treatment was newly approved, while a monoclonal antibody preventing vaso-occlusive crises is also now available. The complex nature of SCD manifestations provides multiple critical points where drug discovery efforts can be and have been directed. These notwithstanding, the need for new therapeutic approaches remains high and one of the recent efforts includes developments aimed at inhibiting the polymerization of hemoglobin S. This review focuses on anti-sickling approaches using peptide-based inhibitors, ranging from individual amino acid dipeptides investigated 30–40 years ago up to more promising 12- and 15-mers under consideration in recent years.
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