• Biotech Sector

    CRISPR

    CRISPR-Cas9 technology is a very new concept in genetics. It was first derived from defence mechanisms present in bacteria. In the 1980’s scientists realised that bacteria have sequences of repeated DNA with no clear function. Later on, these were named Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR). It was discovered that these sequences contain DNA from viruses which have previously infected the bacteria. A special enzyme called Cas9 protects the bacteria from invaders. It does this by carrying around the CRISPR sequence and recognising if any new invaders carry the same DNA as has previously been encountered. If so, Cas9 quickly degrades this DNA so that the invader is destroyed and no longer a threat.

     

    For a long time, this was thought to be only applicable to bacteria. However, in 2012, a group of researchers discovered that this mechanism could be used to target, edit or destroy a region of DNA in many organisms, including humans. This opened up a whole new avenue in genetics.

    GENE TECH

    Extra repeating bits of DNA may account for nearly 3 percent of the genetic architecture of autism, according to a new study. The work is the first to examine such genetic variants in autism on a large scale.

     

    About half of the identified repeating sections occur in genes that have not been previously linked to autism, suggesting new lines of inquiry for geneticists.

     

    “These genes are involved in autism, absolutely,” says study investigator Steve Scherer, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto in Canada. “Those [genes] will become diagnostic tests for the autism screening panel.”

     

    The researchers looked at areas of the genome with tandem repeats — stretches of 2 to 20 nucleotides, which are the ‘building blocks’ of DNA, that are repeated two or more times in one spot. These repeats can expand when they are passed down from parents to children: If a nucleotide, or combination of them, is repeated 10 times in a parents’ DNA, it may be repeated hundreds of times in their child, for example. The more a repeat expands, the more likely it is that it will disrupt the gene’s function.

     

     

    PERSONALIS

    Personalis, Inc. (Nasdaq: PSNL), a leader in advanced genomics for population sequencing and cancer announced its completion of the 75,000th whole human genome sequenced under its contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program (VA MVP). All genomes were sequenced in the company’s laboratory in Menlo Park, California. With over 825,000 veterans enrolled to date and a recently increased target of two million enrollees, the VA MVP is the largest population sequencing program in the U.S. today.

     

    Personalis was first contracted by the VA MVP to provide DNA sequencing and data analysis services in 2012. Since then, Personalis has invested in technology and infrastructure to expand its high-volume capabilities and has developed sophisticated data systems for sample tracking and processing, and for managing large amounts of genetic data. With this investment, over 50,000 genomes have been sequenced in the last 12 months.

     

    PRECISION MEDICINE

    Invitae (NYSE: NVTA), a leading genetics company, and ArcherDX, a leading genomics analysis company democratizing precision oncology, today announced the companies have entered into a definitive agreement under which Invitae will combine with ArcherDX to create a genetics leader with unrivaled breadth and scale in cancer genetics and precision oncology.


    The combined company will be poised to transform care for cancer patients, accelerating adoption of genetics through the most comprehensive suite of products and services available. Integrating germline testing, tumor profiling and liquid biopsy technologies and services in a single platform will enable precision approaches from diagnostic testing to therapy optimization and monitoring, expanding access to best-in-class personalized oncology.

     

    GENOME EDITING

    Just seven years ago, the Broad Institute’s Feng Zhang, PhD, and Harvard geneticist George Church, PhD, separately demonstrated that in human cell cultures, genome editing could be performed using a CRISPR system. CRISPR, which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, first came to light as part of a naturally occurring defense system in bacteria. CRISPR DNA in bacteria includes repetitive elements and spacer elements, the latter of which encode RNA molecules that complex with a CRISPR-associated (Cas) nuclease and guide it to viral targets, that is, viruses that possess genetic material complementary to guide RNA.

     

    After Zhang and Church showed that CRISPR-Cas9, one of the crude adaptive immune systems found in bacteria, had potential as a genomic engineering tool, many developers followed their lead. Early CRISPR startups—such as Editas Medicine, CRISPR Therapeutics, and Intellia Therapeutics—went public and have since prospered. And now a new crop of startups is showing that there’s still plenty of room for innovation.

    EVOGENE

    Evogene Ltd. (NASDAQ: EVGN) (TASE: EVGN.TA), a leading computational biology company targeting to revolutionize life-science product development across several market segments, announced its participation in the CRISPR-IL consortium.

     

    The goal is to develop "Go-Genome", an artificial intelligence (AI) based, end-to-end system for genome-editing to be used in multi-species for pharma, agriculture, and aquaculture. Evogene's work in the consortium is expected to include the broadening of its artificial intelligence capabilities that are expected to extend the range of its GENErator AI solution.

     

    Dr. Eyal Emmanuel, Chairman of the CRISPR-IL consortium and CSO of Evogene commented: "Our mission is to position Israel as a top technological hub for the use of AI in genome editing. The all-encompassing system the consortium aims to develop, is expected to expand the scope of Evogene's discovery and development offerings for genetic elements, including for its subsidiaries."