Benserazide racemate and enantiomers induce fetal globin gene expression in vivo: Studies to guide clinical development for beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease

Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2021 Jul;89:102561. doi: 10.1016/j.bcmd.2021.102561. Epub 2021 Mar 12.


Increased expression of developmentally silenced fetal globin (HBG) reduces the clinical severity of β-hemoglobinopathies. Benserazide has a relatively benign safety profile having been approved for 50 years in Europe and Canada for Parkinson's disease treatment. Benserazide was shown to activate HBG gene transcription in a high throughput screen, and subsequent studies confirmed fetal hemoglobin (HbF) induction in erythroid progenitors from hemoglobinopathy patients, transgenic mice containing the entire human β-globin gene (β-YAC) and anemic baboons. The goal of this study is to evaluate efficacies and plasma exposure profiles of benserazide racemate and its enantiomers to select the chemical form for clinical development. Intermittent treatment with all forms of benserazide in β-YAC mice significantly increased proportions of red blood cells expressing HbF and HbF protein per cell with similar pharmacokinetic profiles and with no cytopenia. These data contribute to the regulatory justification for development of the benserazide racemate. Additionally, dose ranges and frequencies required for HbF induction using racemic benserazide were explored. Orally administered escalating doses of benserazide in an anemic baboon induced γ-globin mRNA up to 13-fold and establish an intermittent dose regimen for clinical studies as a therapeutic candidate for potential treatment of β-hemoglobinopathies.

Keywords: Anemic baboon; Benserazide; Beta YAC transgenic mouse; Beta hemoglobinopathies; Fetal hemoglobin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / genetics
  • Animals
  • Benserazide / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology*
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / genetics*
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Papio
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects*
  • beta-Thalassemia / drug therapy*
  • beta-Thalassemia / genetics
  • gamma-Globins / genetics


  • Dopamine Agents
  • gamma-Globins
  • Benserazide
  • Fetal Hemoglobin