CRISPR Treatment Greenlit in UK A Global First in Gene Therapy

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Scientists in lab working on CRISPR treatment

In a groundbreaking move, the United Kingdom has become the first country to grant regulatory approval for a medical treatment utilizing the revolutionary CRISPR gene-editing tool. This landmark decision opens the door to a promising treatment known as Casgevy, aimed at addressing two challenging genetic conditions: sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia. Both of these conditions are characterized by errors in the genes responsible for hemoglobin production, which plays a vital role in carrying oxygen throughout the body. Until now, there has been no universally successful treatment for either disorder.

Sickle cell disease, which can lead to excruciating episodes of pain, is more prevalent among individuals with African or Caribbean family backgrounds. On the other hand, beta thalassemia primarily affects individuals of Mediterranean, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern origins, as reported by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Casgevy is not a conventional pill or injection; it represents a cutting-edge approach to medical intervention. Developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, this treatment involves extracting stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow and conducting gene editing procedures in a laboratory setting. Following this, patients must undergo a “conditioning treatment,” which may involve the administration of immunosuppressive drugs, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy, with the aim of preparing the bone marrow for the reintroduction of the modified cells.

According to MHRA, patients may need to spend at least a month in a hospital facility to allow the treated cells to settle in the bone marrow and initiate the production of red blood cells with a stable form of hemoglobin.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently evaluating the same treatment and is expected to make a decision regarding its approval by December 8.

“This is a significant milestone in the advancement of medical approaches to address genetic diseases that we never thought could be curable,” expressed Alena Pance, a senior lecturer in genetics at the University of Hertfordshire. She emphasized the importance of modifying the patient’s own stem cells from their bone marrow, which eliminates the challenges associated with immune compatibility and the search for suitable donors. This approach represents a potential cure for the disease rather than a mere treatment.

While the MHRA did not disclose the exact cost of the Casgevy treatment, it is anticipated to be relatively expensive.

CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology at the heart of this groundbreaking treatment, has made significant strides in biomedical research, clinical medicine, and agriculture. It is widely utilized in laboratories worldwide for its precision and versatility.

However, it is worth noting that CRISPR technology has not been without controversy. In 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced the creation of the world’s first gene-edited babies, sparking concerns and ethical debates. Scientists caution against the manipulation of human genes that could be passed down to future generations, emphasizing the need for responsible use of this powerful technique.

The regulatory approval of Casgevy in the United Kingdom represents a significant leap forward in the field of genetic medicine. The potential to treat sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia at their root genetic causes offers hope to patients and their families. While challenges remain, including the cost of the treatment and ethical considerations, this milestone marks a promising step in the ongoing battle against genetic diseases.

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