CRISPR In Humans Overcomes First Biosafety and Ethics Hurdle

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Internet billionaire Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president and co-creator of Napster, the pirate music site, is behind a clinical trial of CRISPR that may have jumped ahead of competitors. He has agreed to give $250 million in funding to six centers, in line with the American belief that if we throw a lot of money at a problem we can solve it right now (let's create a "Manhattan Project" of X.)

Intriguingly, his foundation says it will control patents on the research it funds and commercialize the treatments.

The first hurdle has been cleared.

The National Institute of Health Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee has given the go-ahead for a small safety study of a cancer treatment, so the scientists involved can now seek approval from medical centers, and because it involves people, the Food and Drug Administration as well. According to Technology Review, the treatment envisions removing a cancer patient's T cells and then re-infusing them a month later following genetic alterations to their DNA designed to cause them to target and destroy the tumors.

One committee member did express concern about a conflict of interest because one scientist at the University of Pennsylvania has been a paid speaker for Novartis, which is developing chimeric antigen receptor (genetically engineered T-cell) therapies. In the 1990s, a patient died in a gene therapy study at Penn, and the implication was that the scientist's financial interest in the therapy may have made that study reckless.

That seems like a non-issue. Scientists like that are usually in the business of causing cancer, like Gilles-Eric Séralini and his efforts to claim pesticides and GMOs cause cancer in rats -- by using a type of rat almost guaranteed to get cancer if kept alive well past humane guidelines.

According to STAT, it had been widely expected that the first human use of CRISPR would be a 2017 clinical trial by Editas Medicine, which announced last year that it plans to use CRISPR to try to treat a rare form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis.