Page URL:

CRISPR gene therapy for sickle cell disease approved by the FDA

12 April 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1090

A clinical trial for a new gene therapy approach to treat sickle cell disease has been approved to proceed by the US Food and Drug Administration

Patients with sickle cell disease have a mutation in the beta-haemoglobin gene, causing them to produce misshapen red blood cells that can block blood vessels leading to severe pain, anaemia and potentially life-threatening complications, such as organ damage and strokes. Currently, the only cure is a stem cell transplant from a healthy donor, but in the newly-approved trial, scientists from the University of California will use CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to replace the faulty gene with a functional version. 

'Gene therapy and genome editing allow each patient to serve as their own stem cell donor,' said Professor Donald Kohn, from the Broad Stem Cell Research Centre at the University of California Los Angeles, one of the clinical trial leaders. 'In theory, these approaches should be much safer than a transplant from another person and could become universally available because they eliminate the need to find the needle in a haystack that is a matched stem cell donor.'

In the trial, blood stem cells will be harvested from the patients and grown in the lab. CRISPR/Cas9 will be used to 'cut and replace' a sequence of DNA containing the mutation with a healthy copy. The edited cells will then be returned to the patient's body in the same way they would be if the patient was receiving donor stem cells.

'The goal of this form of genome editing therapy is to correct the mutation in enough stem cells so the resulting blood in circulation has corrected red blood cells,' said Dr Mark Walters, from the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital, another of the clinical trial leaders. 

The study will take place over four years, and include six adults and three adolescents with severe sickle cell disease, testing both safety and efficacy. 

The treatment does have risks: the patients will need to have high dose chemotherapy, to kill all remaining blood stem cells before the modified stem cells are put back. This is also necessary before receiving donor stem cells and can cause severe side effects as the patient's immune system is temporarily disabled.

A similar trial, using CRISPR/Cas9 to activate bone marrow stem cells to produce an alternative version of haemoglobin, rather than correcting the faulty version, has recently shown promising results in a patient with sickle cell disease (see BioNews 1052).

CRISPR clinical trials: a 2021 update
Innovative Genomics Institute |  3 March 2021
FDA approves CRISPR gene therapy trials for sickle cell disease
The Daily Californian |  1 April 2021
FDA approves first test of CRISPR to correct genetic defect causing sickle cell disease
University of California, Berkeley |  30 March 2021
UC Consortium launches first clinical trial using CRISPR to correct gene defect that causes sickle cell disease
University of California San Francisco |  30 March 2021
UC launches gene therapy trial to transform the treatment of sickle cell disease
The Mercury News |  31 March 2021
18 October 2021 - by Beatrice Costa 
Genome editing is a group of approaches that enable scientists to add, remove or alter selected DNA sequences at particular locations in the genome...
16 August 2021 - by Dr Charlotte Douglas 
A genome-editing-based gene therapy for blood diseases sickle cell disease and beta-thalassaemia continues to be effective more than two years after treatment...
26 July 2021 - by Michaela Chen and Jen Willows 
A knowledge gap may mean that women and girls living with sickle cell disease are not getting the best reproductive healthcare...
7 June 2021 - by Martha Roberts 
People who have had type 2 diabetes for less than a decade and have a BMI of less than 23 could benefit from a bone marrow stem cell transplant...
4 May 2021 - by Christina Burke 
Two genome editing approaches can correct a variety of mutations associated with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, researchers have shown...
22 June 2020 - by Javier Bautista 
CRISPR genome editing has been successfully used to treat three patients with blood disorders in a clinical trial...
13 January 2020 - by Bernie Owusu-Yaw 
Promising results from clinical trials give hope for using CRISPR genome editing to treat various heritable diseases and cancer in humans...
6 March 2017 - by Ayala Ochert 
A teenage boy in France appears to have been cured of sickle cell disease using a gene therapy. He has been free of all signs of the disease for 15 months...
12 September 2016 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
A genetically engineered virus that triggers the production of an alternative form of haemoglobin has reversed the symptoms of sickle cell disease in mice...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.