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First step in study shows CRISPR gene-edited cells are safe for use in cancer patients

February 6, 2020, 10:42 PM UTC

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Happy Thursday, readers!

Cool science is intrinsically exciting. And the concept of slicing and dicing DNA through CRISPR gene-editing in order to treat conditions ranging from cancer to inherited disorders is ever-so-cool—on top of being a massive opportunity for investors and businesses, and, most importantly, potentially life-changing for patients (always good to keep them top of mind).

But from the early days of the genomic revolution, there’s been a key question: are edited cells safe to use in humans?

On Thursday, we got at least a little bit more information on the safety-side of this nascent biological tech—and it’s good news.

The University of Pennsylvania and other researchers, who are running the first-ever CRISPR gene-editing study on humans in the U.S., announced that deploying genetically modified cells to to fight cancer is safe for patients. This is a follow-up on their November news that reported early-stage safety trial data for the clinical trials approved in 2016.

The new report adds to the theory that this technology, at the very least, won’t be harmful. Though they don’t know if the modified genes will fight cancers, tests can move ahead without adding extra worries for researchers, doctors, or patients—and that is no small thing.

But, it’s worth stating the flip side of all this good news once more: Efficacy in fighting cancers—and the details about which types it may be most effective against—are still completely up in the air. This is, literally, the very first step of the clinical trial process. Consider it due diligence.

And it’s possible that even the safety concerns may re-emerge depending on the specific disease that a patient has.

Still, it’s an intriguing advance for one of the most fascinating biotechnological innovations in decades. We’ll definitely be watching to see what happens next.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

An A.I. approach to coronavirus. Rockville, Md.-based Insilico Medicine is taking an artificial intelligence hammer to the coronavirus threat, my colleague Jeremy Kahn writes. What's fascinating about the technology (at least according to Insilico's claims) is that it could be deployed to rapidly suss out the kinds of molecules that could be effective combatants against the new coronavirus strain that's been spreading across the globe and hitting international markets. (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

The Johnson & Johnson talc saga continues. Drug giant Johnson & Johnson's drama over whether or not its popular talc powder products are linked to ovarian cancer (a claim the company has vehemently denied) continued on Thursday as a jury reportedly handed down a $750 million verdict of punitive damages to the firm. J&J plans to appeal the renumeration. The company has been successful on that front in several other cases when faced with sizable verdicts. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

The war on Medicaid. University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley is one of the sharpest minds when it comes to U.S. health care policy. So it's worth reading his words even if you may disagree with his underlying philosophies—and there are few issues as important to the working poor as Medicaid policy. Bagley has a typically eloquent and insightful piece in the Washington Post about the Trump administration's efforts to turn Medicaid, a federal-state partnership health care safety net program, into a "block grant." Such a move would likely allow states to undercut the benefits provided to the nation's poor. It's a viewpoint worth considering. (Washington Post)

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Stock scammers are using the coronavirus outbreak to dupe investorsby Lucinda Shen

Why mobile carriers are bidding billions more for 5G airwavesby Aaron Pressman

A Peloton revenue miss paired with a strong annual outlookby Bloomberg

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