Birthing anything new in biotech can be extremely hard. But gene-editing may win the prize for unexpected hurdles.
Fast on the heels of scary reports that a popular gene editing tech could trigger an increased cancer risk, another group of scientists is ringing a very loud alarm bell in Nature today warning that CRISPR/Cas9 editing triggers havoc in DNA that could well prove harmful to people.
Michael Kosicki, Kärt Tomberg and Allan Bradley delivered their warning in unmistakable terms:
In the clinical context of editing many billions of cells, the multitude of different mutations generated makes it likely that one or more edited cells in each protocol would be endowed with an important pathogenic lesion. Such lesions may constitute a first carcinogenic ‘hit’ in stem cells and progenitors, which have a long replicative lifespan and may become neoplastic with time.
“We found that changes in the DNA have been seriously underestimated before now,” Bradley, a professor at Britain’s Wellcome Sanger Institute, told Reuters. And anyone thinking of doing this in humans should proceed with great caution.
That’s not what the gene-editing companies wanted to hear, especially after earlier warnings kicked their stock prices lower. Their losses on Nasdaq are growing today.
Intellia, for one, quickly batted back against the report. In a statement, the biotech says that nothing in this report is new or particularly alarming, as far as it’s concerned. These deletions aren’t new, it’s unlikely to be specific to CRISPR/Cas9 (with applications to other gene editing technologies) and won’t “significantly impact the path forward for CRISPR-based therapeutics.”
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