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CRISPR Gene-Editing Technology and Immunotherapy — The Next Revolution in Cancer Treatment?

On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) advisory panel gave its approval to allow the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR—Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats- to be used in humans for the first time ever in a study developed to target three different cancer types.

The proposed trial will focus on treating cancer with a combination of gene editing and immunotherapy by using CRISPR technology to modify a patient’s own T cells in an effort to make them more successful in attacking cancer cells. This study, which will assess the safety of this cutting-edge technology, will involve over a dozen patients located at three medical centers—the University of Pennsylvania, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of California at San Francisco.

Funding for this study is being provided by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy—a collaborative effort of the world’s top cancer centers along with research scientists, clinicians, and industry leaders who are committed to working together “to lead a smart, coordinated cancer immunotherapy research effort to take discoveries from bench to clinical trials to bedside faster.” Tech entrepreneur and billionaire Sean Parker founded the Parker Institute in April 2016 with an initial $250 million grant—the largest single donation to date dedicated to immunotherapy. Parker refers to this venture into cancer immunotherapy research as a “Manhattan project for curing cancer with the immune system.”

“CRISPR technology provides an opportunity to profoundly manipulate cells,” according to a statement provided by Jenifer Haslip, a spokesperson for the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. “We’re excited to be part of the first clinical effort in the United States to combine these two powerful therapeutic approaches to treat a devastating disease like cancer."

Sources

Lorenzetti L. Sean Parker is funding the first human trials of a revolutionary cancer treatment. Forbes online. June 21, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/06/21/sean-parker-first-crispr-trial/.

Lorenzetti L. Why biotech's biggest breakthrough is now in dispute. Forbes online. January 20, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/01/20/crispr-biotech-patent/.

The Parker Foundation. http://parker.org/.

McGinley L. Federal panel approves first test of CRISPR editing in humans. The Washington Post online. June 21, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/06/21/federal-panel-approves-first-test-of-crispr-editing-in-humans/.

Ramsey L. A Sean Parker-backed cancer trial that would use CRISPR in humans for the first time just got a critical approval. Business Insider online. June 21, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/sean-parker-backed-crispr-cancer-treatment-trial-in-humans-just-got-approved-2016-6.

Regalado A. Money behind first CRISPR test? It’s from Internet billionaire Sean Parker. MIT Technology Review online. June 20, 2016. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601742/money-behind-first-crispr-test-its-from-internet-billionaire-sean-parker/.

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