China advances gene editing with American technology

Business & Technology

The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall) that at least 86 Chinese patients have had their DNA altered since 2015 using a gene-editing technology that was developed in the United States, but where more stringent restrictions on human trials have delayed testing.

  • The technology, known as Crispr-Cas9, was first identified as being capable of editing DNA in 2012. The University of Pennsylvania has been trying for years to launch a trial.
  • Anhui Kedgene Biotechnology Co., a Chinese startup, took the lead in Crispr trials by collaborating with a military hospital in 2015, and has since worked with other hospitals.
  • One Chinese doctor, Wu Shixiu, obtained approval for a cancer trial from his hospital in one afternoon, with no involvement from national regulators, according to the WSJ.  “China shouldn’t have been the first one to do it,” says Dr. Wu. “But there are fewer restrictions.”
  • Western researchers are concerned about the ethical implications of China’s use of the tool, due to limited requirements for disclosures and reporting, and that missteps “could set back the field for everyone.”