Saying that COVID-19 has impacted the world might just be an understatement. In fact, COVID-19 changed the way we interact with each other, businesses, and the world around us. But how has it impacted medical science and biotechnology? According to Fierce Biotech, the spread of coronavirus is halting trials and treatments like CRISPR in the realm of gene editing.
What is CRISPR?
To put it simply, CRISPR is a form of gene-editing technology. Scientists can use CRISPR to “edit” cells by silencing genes, moving desired genes into an open position, and more. According to VOX, the technology has so far been used to:
reduce the severity of genetic deafness in mice…[create] mushrooms that don’t brown easily and  bone marrow cells in mice to treat sickle-cell anemia. Down the road, CRISP might help us develop drought-tolerant crops and create powerful new antibiotics.
Thus, CRISPR presents a potentially unique treatment for diseases. Basically, researchers may soon be able to cure genetic diseases or disorders by modifying the DNA. Learn more about how CRISPR works.
COVID-19 and CRISPR
Recently, many medical companies have switched their focus to address the health problems generated by COVID-19. With nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases worldwide, there certainly is a lot to handle. But in areas like biotechnology, research is falling by the wayside. In fact, while CRISPR was going to be used in human trials in 2020, CRISPR Therapeutics now says the gene-editing technology will experience roadblocks moving forward, particularly in regards to finances, data, and development speed.
Prior to the spread of COVID-19, CRISPR Therapeutics had been holding clinical trials for patients with severe hemoglobinopathies and immuno-oncology. These include:
- CTX001, a CRISPR therapy for patients with beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease. CTX001 had encouraging early results, and is now conducting a follow-up trial.
- Beta thalassemia is a blood disorder characterized by reduced hemoglobin levels, which can lead to fatigue, weakness, blood clots, or iron overload. Learn more here.
- CTX110, an immuno-oncology cell therapy program that targets the CD19 antigen, commonly found in B-cell malignancies. CTX110 started a safety trial in the summer of 2019.
- CTX120, an immuno-oncology cell therapy program that targets the BCMA antigen, commonly found in multiple myeloma. CTX 120 was planning on a clinical trial in February, though it has been postponed for COVID-19.
- CTX130, an immuno-oncology cell therapy program that targets the CD70 antigen, commonly found in blood-related cancers and solid tumors, such as those found in renal cell carcinoma.
Unfortunately, because of a lack of healthcare resources, new patients cannot be added to clinical trials at this time. Additionally, researchers do not want to potentially expose cancer patients to COVID-19.
So, despite CRISPR’s potential benefit and varied implementation in the medical realm, this gene-editing technology will most likely experience delays as COVID-19 continues.