Hopes of new treatments after research uncovers genes essential to disease’s survival
Researchers working with a revolutionary gene editing tool have discovered thousands of genes that are essential for the survival of cancer cells, holding out the prospect of major advances in treatment.
Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire worked with the Crispr/Cas9 system to disrupt every gene within 30 different types of cancer.
This led them to identifying 600 genes that could be used in precision treatments that would mean sufferers not having to endure the side effects of options such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
One gene identified is Werner syndrome RecQ helicase, which researchers found was essential for keeping alive some of the most unstable cancers but which cannot currently be targeted.
The research, which was a collaboration between the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
It could help to bring down the cost of making effective cancer treatments: the institute said that it currently costs more than $1bn (£760m) to make a single drug, and that 90% of these fail during testing and development.
Praising the tool that made the breakthrough possible, Dr Kosuke Yusa, the co-lead author of the findings, said Crispr was “incredibly powerful” and “enables us to do science at a scale and with a precision that we couldn’t do five years ago.
“With Crispr we have discovered a very exciting opportunity to develop new drugs targeting cancers.”
Dr Mathew Garnett, also co-lead author, said: “The Cancer Dependency Map is a huge effort to identify all the weaknesses that exist in different cancers so we can use this information to empower the next generation of precision cancer treatments.
“Ultimately we hope this impacts on the way we treat patients, so many more patients get effective therapies.”
Prof Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, told the BBC: “What makes this research so powerful is the scale.
“This work provides some excellent starting points and the next step will be a thorough analysis of the genes that have been identified as weaknesses in this study, to determine if they will one day lead to the development of new treatments for patients.”
Credit: The Guardian
Japan will allow gene-edited foodstuffs to be sold to consumers without safety evaluations as long as the techniques involved meet certain criteria, if recommendations agreed on by an advisory panel yesterday are adopted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. This would open the door to using CRISPR and other techniques on plants and animals intended for human consumption in the country.
“There is little difference between traditional breeding methods and gene editing in terms of safety,” Hirohito Sone, an endocrinologist at Niigata University who chaired the expert panel, told NHK, Japan’s national public broadcaster.
How to regulate gene-edited food is a hotly debated issue internationally. Scientists and regulators have recognized a difference between genetic modification, which typically involves transferring a gene from one organism to another, and gene editing, in which certain genes within an organism are disabled or altered using new techniques such as CRISPR. That’s why a year ago, the U.S.Department of Agriculture concluded that most gene-edited foods would not need regulation. But the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled in July 2018 that gene-edited crops must go through the same lengthy approval process as traditional transgenic plants.
Now, Japan appears set to follow the U.S. example. The final report, approved yesterday, was not immediately available, but an earlier draft was posted on the ministry website. The report says no safety screening should be required provided the techniques used do not leave foreign genes or parts of genes in the target organism. In light of that objective, the panel concluded it would be reasonable to require information on the editing technique, the genes targeted for modification, and other details from developers or users that would be made public while respecting proprietary information.
The recommendations leave open the possibility of requiring safety evaluations if there are insufficient details on the editing technique. The draft report does not directly tackle the issue of whether such foods should be labeled. The ministry is expected to largely follow the recommendations in finalizing a policy on gene-edited foods later this year.
Consumer groups had voiced opposition to the draft recommendations, which were released for public comment in December 2018. Using the slogan “No need for genetically modified food!” the Consumers Union of Japan joined other groups circulating a petition calling for regulating the cultivation of all gene-edited crops, and safety reviews and labeling of all gene-edited foods.
Whether consumers will embrace the new technology remains to be seen. Japan has approved the sale of genetically modified (GM) foods that have passed safety tests as long as they are labeled. But public wariness has limited consumption and has led most Japanese farmers to shun GM crops. The country does import sizable volumes of GM processed food and livestock feed, however. Japanese researchers are reportedly working on gene-edited potatoes, tomatoes, rice, chicken, and fish. “Thorough explanations [of the new technologies] are needed to ease public concerns,” Sone said.
Credit: Science Magazine
Further to our March 5th CRISPR snack, the Director for food and feed safety, innovation in the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety of the European Commission, Sabine Jülicher, responded to Science for Democracy with a letter, on behalf of Commissioner Andriukaitis. In it, the European Commission restates that enforcement of regulation is a national competence, but acknowledges the importance of stakeholder engagement and thanks Science for Democracy for informing the Commissioner about our initiatives.
On 5 March 2019, Marco Cappato, treasurer of the Luca Coscioni Association and Marco Perduca, coordinator of Science for Democracy, organized a demonstration in front of the European Parliament in Brussels to denounce the serious repercussions in terms of limitation to scientific research of a judgment of the European Court of Justice adopted on 25 July 2018.
In conclusion of the public event participants ate some home-made rice pudding prepared with genetically edited rice with the CRISPR technique. During the snack the Belgian authorities confiscated the rice, identifying Marco Cappato and Marco Perduca and summoning them on 2 April to justify their actions and explain the origin of the rice.
On 2 April 2019, Perduca and Cappato, accompanied by Guido Long, were heard for almost three hours by officials of the Federal Agency for Food Chain Security.
Below what was asked to Mr. Perduca
Marco PERDUCA declares to act on behalf of the non-profit association “Science for Democracy” as an administrator, is present without having received a written convocation with a list of rights and is asked questions in the presence of Mr. CAPPATO.
Questions are asked on the following:
- Distribution of food products manufactured from unauthorized GMO rice;
- non-respect of the seizure of the aforementioned food product.
Agency inspectors inform Mr. PERDUCA:
1 – that he has the right, prior to interrogation, to consult with a lawyer of his choice or with a lawyer assigned to him, and who has the possibility of being assisted by him during the interrogation; that he must take the necessary measures himself to be assisted by a lawyer and that he can request to have the hearing postponed only once for this purpose;
2- that he has the possibility, after having identified himself, to make a declaration, to answer the questions that will be addressed to him or to remain silent;
3- that he cannot be forced to accuse himself;
4- that his statements can be used as evidence by justice and can therefore be used against him or against another person;
5- that he can request that all questions that are addressed to him as well as the answers are listed in the terms used;
6 – that he is not deprived of freedom and that he can come and go as he wishes;
7- that he may request to be subjected to certain information acts or hearings;
8- that he can use the documents in his possession, without this causing the postponement of the interrogation and that he can, during the interrogation or subsequently, request that they be attached to the report or file;
9- that he can obtain a copy of the interrogation report free of charge.
Mr. PERDUCA is given a written declaration of his rights to the interested party before the first interrogation.
Mr. PERDUCA declares to renounce his right to a preliminary consultation with a lawyer and to be assisted by him during the audition. The interested party signs a waiver form dated and attached to the hearing report.
The questioned person lets us know that he wants to express himself in French and that he chooses French as the language of justice.
I come today to your offices according to your desire to proceed with my questioning as part of your check of 5 March 2019 made in front of the European Parliament at the Place du Luxembourg in Ixelles on the occasion of our event “Give CRISPR a chance”.
You ask me if our ASBL pays its members. I answer you no.
You ask me how many members our ASBL has. I can’t tell you a precise number. I would say about fifty members of which only a part was present at our event. Our members come from all horizons including non-EU countries.
You ask me what is the calendar of our events. I answer you that our event of March 5 was aimed at keeping the public and MEPs informed about the decision of the Luxembourg Court of July 25, 2018, and to explain what CRISPR is as a new technology. In the past, we organized a picnic in Rome on 17 September 2018 in front of the parliament and on 4 October in front of the university in Milan. On 8 October 2018 we organized a debate on the right to science at the United Nations in Geneva. On March 21, 2019 we held a debate on human rights and scientific research on drugs in Vienna. On March 19, 2019, a debate on biotechnology in agriculture in the Senate in Rome. On February 20 we organized a debate on science and innovation in Italy in Rome. We have sent a series of recommendations to the United Nations following these debates. All our past events are listed on our website www.sciencefordemocracy.org on the “when” page. On 8 April we have a seminar on environmental policy assessment in London. On 5 July we will organize a debate in Rome on the critical aspects of science and research in Italy. A debate on science is planned for October in Geneva. In 2020, an international congress in Ethiopia. We have not received any restriction regarding our events, nor during the picnics organized in Italy. Members of parliament are partners in our projects. You ask me if we have an upcoming event about CRISPR and I answer no.
You ask me why we do not consider the CRISPR method as a scientific method assimilated to a genetic modification. The answer is simple: because this does not correspond to the contents of the 2001 Directive. In particular, these are genetic modifications invented in 2012 that are not distinguishable from a natural modification. GMOs are modifications of a whole series of genes. The CRISPR-cas method cuts the DNA sequence without any introduction of genome from other species. CRISPR allows us to decide when genome modification will take place instead of depending on chance as it happens in nature.
You ask me if we know the role of the AFSCA. I answer you that before your action I did not know the AFSCA. You inform me that the AFSCA is based on established regulation.
We want to give scientists the chance to do their job. You ask me why we organized this event in front of Parliament. I reply that it is the European Parliament that must change the European Directive of 2001. Why have you associated the distribution of genetically modified rice with the public during your awareness-raising event? I reply that it is a question of trust in the products we and scientists defend. We would like to clarify that we do not agree with the notion of placing on the market because our militants wore a specific t-shirt with the words “Give CRISPR a chance”. This visual differentiation was useful for us to direct the distribution only towards our sympathizers. Our supporters are not all members who paid the registration fees but appear on our mailing list when we organize events. We also want to clarify that we dispute the genetically modified nature of the proposed rice because it is currently impossible to technologically determine that genetic modifications are the result of human intervention rather than a natural mechanism. The CRISPR method is not an expansive modification of the genome.
We did not respond favourably to your injunction not to distribute the product because it was important for us to emphasize our confidence in technology by making our sympathizers taste the product and consuming it ourselves. As for rice, you ask me where the preparation was made. I answer you that the preparation of the rice was made by us at the residence of some friends. I do not wish to give you the address of this kitchen.
You ask me where the rice that was part of the preparation comes from. I reply that we asked for this modified CRISPR rice in Italy to a scientist whose name I will not give. In Japan there is more advanced research on CRISPR-cas on rice. That is where the rice was produced. I cannot tell you what status CRISPR-cas rice has in Japan. Rice arrives by plane from Japan to Rome. I import the rice myself as a physical person. My offices were in Rome at Via di Torre Argentina 76, 00186. I worked there as a consultant in the field of human rights.
You ask me if any derogation application has been introduced. We do not know the conditions that would allow us to consider such a situation. About two years ago, before creating our ASBL, we were already interested in the CRISPR-cas method.
The hearing took place in accordance with the questions and answers, according to the terms used.
We read the hearing report to the interviewee, after which he confirmed he did not want to add or modify anything.
The interviewee received a copy of his hearing and signature below for receipt.
The hearing ends on 2 April 2019 at 3.35pm.
Thanks to Guido Long for the translation from French.