CRISPR/Cas9 enables regenerative medicine 2.0
Regenerative medicine, or the use of stem cells to repair or replace tissue or organ function lost due to disease, damage or age, holds tremendous potential in both rare and common diseases. The field is rapidly approaching the point where compelling clinical proofs of concept will likely begin to emerge. Most of these efforts use unmodified stem cells, and the potential to genetically engineer these cells via gene editing is tremendous. We are pursuing gene-editing approaches to allow allogeneic use of stem cell-derived therapies by enabling immune evasion, improving existing cell function and directing cell fate using CRISPR/Cas9. Our first major effort in this area is in diabetes together with our partner, ViaCyte.
Combining CRISPR and stem cells to treat diabetes
Decades of clinical data with islet transplants indicate that beta-cell replacement approaches may offer curative benefit to patients with insulin-requiring diabetes. ViaCyte has pioneered the approach of generating pancreatic-lineage cells from stem cells and delivering them safely and efficiently to patients. PEC-Direct, ViaCyte’s lead product candidate currently being evaluated in the clinic, uses a non-immunoprotective delivery device that permits direct vascularization of the cell therapy. This approach has the potential to deliver durable benefit; however, because the patient’s immune system will identify these cells as foreign, PEC-Direct will require long-term immunosuppression to avoid rejection. As a result, PEC-Direct is being developed as a therapy for the subset of patients with type 1 diabetes at high risk for complications.
Our gene-editing technology offers the potential to protect the transplanted cells from the patient’s immune system by ex vivo editing immune-modulatory genes within the stem cell line used to produce the pancreatic-lineage cells. The speed, specificity and multiplexing efficiency of CRISPR/Cas9 make our technology ideally suited to this task. We have established significant expertise in immune-evasive gene editing through our allogeneic CAR-T programs. The combination of ViaCyte’s stem cell capabilities and our gene-editing capabilities has the potential to enable a beta-cell replacement product that may deliver durable benefit to patients without triggering an immune reaction.
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