Google’s Parent Company (Alphabet) Funds New Gene Editing Company
An article recently published in MIT Review reports that Verve Therapeutics announced that it has received funding from Alphabet’s GV venture fund plus other investment vehicles. The funds will enable Verve to develop its “one-time” injection of CRISPR gene-editing technology.
Verve will initially test its therapies on animals then focus on adults who have shown evidence of being at risk of cardiac disease. By doing so it will ensure that future generations will not be affected by its genetic manipulation.
Protecting Against Heart Disease
Heart disease is the primary cause of death in the world. The cardiologists involved with the project predict that these injections could have the effect of lifelong protection from heart disease.
Verve intends to edit the genes of adults who are at risk of coronary artery disease. The treatment involves copying DNA mutations that have proven to protect the heart.
CRISPR is used worldwide for treating disease and modifying plants and animals. It uses biotechnological techniques to make changes to the DNA in living organisms. It is continually being refined and will eventually prove to be an easier, cheaper, and more accurate way to insert or delete genes.
Gene editing manipulates the genetic material of a living organism. It deletes, replaces or inserts a DNA sequence, with the goal of correcting a genetic disorder or improving crops and farm animals.
The order of DNA sequence is similar to the order of letters in the alphabet that form words. Genes, in the language of a cell, instruct cells to make protein. In gene editing, the sequences are changed. Thus the messages are changed.
Verve’s Immediate Goal
The company intends to utilize its list of genetic mutations known to prevent heart attacks. Verve is depending on CRISPR to deliver these protective mutations through injections of nanoparticles. Gene-editing therapy could also be effective in preventing second heart attacks.
A New Direction
Verve is heading in a new direction by editing human DNA to protect against heart disease. Until now, companies have been specializing primarily in rare diseases.
But an ethical dilemma has taken hold worldwide with the gene editing of twins by a scientist in China. Although for years scientists have warned that gene editing is premature and dangerous, the recent announcement that a Chinese researcher has altered the genes of twins has shocked the scientific community.
The intent was to protect the babies from HIV, but it is engineered to pass the modification along to future generations. This is called “human germline” modification. It is banned in over forty countries.
The criticism ranges from “ethically problematic” to “monstrous.” The scientist’s own university is launching an investigation, as it considers the procedure an ethics violation as well as a violation of academic norms.
The 1915 International Summit on Human Gene Editing
On a positive note, the summit’s statement was somewhat supportive of human gene editing. However, the statement was not in favor of the clinical application of germline modifications at that time.
It did approve the use of somatic (body) cell gene therapy. There was no agreement within the gene editing community as to the legal and ethical limits of CRISPR or similar techniques.