Market reaction to a report that cells edited with CRISPR technology can activate a cancer-causing gene has been severe for companies developing CRISPR-based therapies. But, the nascent industry has faced and survived such challenges before. Meanwhile, new tools are making gene therapies faster, easier and more accessible than ever, and lowering the industry’s barriers to entry.
Biotech companies developing CRISPR-based therapies received a massive blow this week after new research was published indicating that gene-edited cells could cause cancer. Gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 has been hailed as a breakthrough that could allow scientists to treat and possibly cure genetic diseases, as the technology allows scientists and doctors to modify a living organism’s genome by snipping away genetic diseases. This form of genetic engineering entails inserting, deleting or replacing DNA in the genome using “molecular scissors.”
Standard CRISPR-Cas9 works by cutting both strands of the DNA double helix. That injury causes a cell to activate a biochemical first-aid kit orchestrated by a gene called p53, which either mends the DNA break or makes the cell self-destruct. But, that activation is potentially problematic because p53 can cause cancer. In short, the implications seem catastrophic for CRISPR’s future before it has had a chance to take off. But, this is not the first time CRISPR has faced a major hurdle. Indeed, CRISPR has already dodged two potentially fatal bullets . . .