Skip to Main Content

Taking aim at sickle cell disease—an unfairly neglected malady

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2019 - Summer


Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT) is a promising up-and-coming biotechnology company in South San Francisco. It is currently focused on bringing voxelotor, a potential treatment for sickle cell disease (SCD), to the public: the drug may be submitted for FDA approval this year. If successful, GBT stands to revolutionize health in a traditionally marginalized and overlooked community. Ted W. Love, MD ’85, is its president and chief executive officer.

If you think there’s a lot of stress on Love’s shoulders, you wouldn’t know it to talk with him. “It’s a real honor, to be able to work with all the talented people here,” said Love. “That’s one of the perks of success: better access to bigger challenges, and the type of professionals who like to take on those challenges.”

Even during his childhood in Alabama, Love was powerfully attracted to a career in medicine, though in interviews he’s also expressed admiration for military pilots. The combination of excitement, potential to change the world for the better, and opportunity for ethical leadership appealed to him. Perhaps it isn’t terribly surprising, then, that Love’s interest in medicine led him to combine his passion for science with the excitement of entrepreneurialism.

His professional experiences prepared Love well for his responsibilities at GBT. Once he completed his residency and fellowship training in internal medicine and cardiology at Harvard Medical School (via Massachusetts General Hospital), he went on to serve in leadership roles at various companies and committees, including Genentech, Theravance Biopharma, Nuvelo, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, and California’s Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee for stem-cell research, among others.

After his last job, Love could have easily retired to enjoy his wine collection in Sonoma, Calif., but GBT coaxed him back into action. The reason for his return was a lingering sense that he could do more for the African American community, which suffers disproportionately from SCD. Sickle cell was not viewed as an “urgent” disease like some other diseases that affect specific groups—evidence, perhaps, of systemic bias—and GBT’s voxelotor offered a rare possibility to create a viable treatment in spite of the lack of traditional market incentives. Voxelotor, which is taken by mouth once daily, prevents red blood cells from becoming sickle-shaped and breaking down by increasing their affinity for oxygen and restoring normal hemoglobin function. The premature breakdown of red blood cells in people with SCD causes serious long-term consequences, including anemia, organ damage, stroke, and a shortened life span. “I wanted to make a difference, where in the past I didn’t have the power to help,” said Love.

With a résumé like Love’s, it’s hard to pick out specific moments on which to focus. Marriage and fatherhood (Love is married with three daughters and three granddaughters) have been sources of positivity and pride in his life, as has his educational path. Asked about his memories of New Haven, Love says that he learned important lessons about what it meant to be a doctor and practice medicine while at Yale. He emphasized one experience in particular.

“One day I was doing rounds, and [Margaret] Peggy Bia, MD, FW ’78, was my attending,” said Love. “It was a night shift, and slow, and like most students I was perhaps slightly overconfident in my abilities … I let more patients in than usual, because I knew I could handle it.”

Love said that the next thing he knew, unexpected patients flooded in, overwhelming him. “I called Dr. Bia, asking for help, hoping she could help me reduce my patient load,” said Love. What she told him left an indelible mark on him as a young leader.

“She listened to me describe the situation, patiently. And when I was done, she said: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ It was a long medical rotation, but I understood what she meant: being a doctor is a responsibility. You promise to help people, that’s what you do. It’s on you. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.”

Mentors like Bia, professor emeritus of medicine (nephrology), who retired in 2018 after 40 years of service, are just part of the reason Love remembers Yale School of Medicine fondly. He described relationships with other students that have stood the test of time, and opportunities that the school opened up for him.

“The School of Medicine played a big role in who I am today,” said Love. “Ultimately, I’m very grateful.”

Previous Article
A champion for human rights gives back
Next Article
Building a powerhouse microscope