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Blood test spots multiple cancers without clear symptoms, study finds

BY IAN SAMPLE
THE GUARDIAN

Doctors have told health services to prepare for a new era of cancer screening after a study found a simple blood test could spot multiple cancer types in patients before they develop clear symptoms.

The Pathfinder study offered the blood test to more than 6,600 adults aged 50 and over, and detected dozens of new cases of disease. Many cancers were at an early stage and nearly three-quarters were forms not routinely screened for.

It is the first time results from the Galleri test, which looks for cancer DNA in the blood, have been returned to patients and their doctors, to guide cancer investigations and any necessary treatment. Continue Reading →

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CRISPR gene editing therapy for HIV is heading into human testing after FDA clearance

BY ANNALEE ARMSTRONG
FIERCE BIOTECH

A CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology that has shown promise in clearing HIV from mice is headed into human testing.

Excision BioTherapeutics will usher the CRISPR-based therapy EBT-101 into clinical trials after the FDA cleared an investigational new drug application, according to the company’s press release.

EBT-101 is under development as a potential virus-clearing treatment for patients with HIV—or, put in the company’s words, “a potential functional cure for chronic HIV.”

We don’t like to throw the word “cure” around here. But Excision thinks the therapy could replace standard-of-care retroviral therapy, which keeps HIV from replicating but does not remove it from the body. That means patients stay on the treatment, which can cause serious side effects and affect quality of life. Now with the start of human testing, the real path to see if this new and lauded tech can accomplish this really begins.

HIV integrates its genetic material into the genome of a host cell, meaning available therapies just can’t remove it. A team of scientists at Temple University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center managed to remove the virus completely from mice during preclinical testing using a combination of CRISPR and antiretroviral therapy. They also found no adverse events that could be linked to the therapy in the study, published back in 2019.

“If you just make a single cut, the virus can mutate around it. We make multiple cuts to deactivate the viral genome,” CEO Daniel Dornbusch previously told Fierce Biotech in an interview.

EBT-101 has since been tested in nonhuman primates, which showed it reached every tissue in the body where HIV reservoirs reside.

Excision licensed the therapy from the universities with a goal of moving it into clinical trials. Now, the FDA is on board.

The biotech plans to initiate a phase 1/2 clinical trial later this year, according to the statement.

The technology used by Excision was licensed from the lab of famed CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna. The company is also working on similar treatments for other viruses, including herpes and hepatitis B.

Excision’s news arrives the same week that Intellia announced a gene editing therapy for acute myeloid leukemia had been cleared for human trials by the FDA. Continue Reading →

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First genetically modified mosquitoes released in the United States

BY EMILY WALTZ
NATURE
After a decade of fighting for regulatory approval and public acceptance, a biotechnology firm has released genetically engineered mosquitoes into the open air in the United States for the first time. The experiment, launched this week in the Florida Keys — over the objections of some local critics — tests a method for suppressing populations of wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. Continue Reading →

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Scientists win historic Nobel chemistry prize for ‘genetic scissors’

BY PAUL RINCON BBC SCIENCE

Two scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are the first two women to share the prize, which honours their work on the technology of genome editing. Their discovery, known as Crispr-Cas9 “genetic scissors”, is a way of making specific and precise changes to the DNA contained in living cells. They will split the prize money of 10 million krona (£861,200; $1,110,400). Biological chemist Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, commented: “The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionised the life sciences.” Continue Reading →

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Did coronavirus come from a lab?

BY MICHAEL MARSHALL
NEWSCIENTIST

Researchers led by Shan-Lu Liu at the Ohio State University say there is “no credible evidence” of genetic engineering. The virus’s genome has been sequenced, and if it had been altered, we would expect to see signs of inserted gene sequences. But we now know the points that differ from bat viruses are scattered in a fairly random way, just as they would be if the new virus had evolved naturally. Continue Reading →

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Quest to use CRISPR against disease gains ground

BY HEIDI LEDFORD
NATURE

The prospect of using the popular genome-editing tool CRISPR to treat a host of diseases in people is moving closer to reality.

Medical applications of CRISPR–Cas9 had a banner year in 2019. The first results trickled in from trials testing the tool in people, and more trials launched. In the coming years, researchers are looking ahead to more sophisticated applications of CRISPR genome editing that could lay the foundation for treating an array of diseases, from blood disorders to hereditary blindness. Continue Reading →

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