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2021-09-14|

MD Anderson to Develop Microbiome Cancer Therapeutics with CRISPR Gene-Editing

by Tyler Chen
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Immunotherapy uses checkpoint inhibitors to block the checkpoint protein on immune cells, bolstering the immune system’s ability to target cancerous cells more effectively. The therapy brings huge benefits in treating cancer patients but sometimes comes with serious side effects.

 

Gut Microbes Linked to Checkpoint Inhibitor Toxicity

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center released a study in July identifying specific gut microbes that are associated with the toxicity from combining CTLA-4 and PD-1 targeting checkpoint inhibitors in melanoma patients.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, suggested that combining checkpoint inhibitors with either IL-1R inhibition or edited gut microbiota are two potential strategies to deal with toxicity, creating a positive outlook for microbiome therapeutics in cancer treatment.

 

Developing Microbiome Therapeutics with CRISPR

On September 13, MD Anderson Cancer Center teamed up with Danish biotech SNIPR Biome. They will use CRISPR to edit the genes of specific gut microbiomes to decrease the immune-related side effects of cancer patients who take combined checkpoint inhibitors.

Accomplishing that goal won’t be easy. A human body can harbor trillions of microbes, and making permanent changes to specific microbiota has proven to be tough going. While scientists look towards CRISPR for breakthroughs, the technology poses challenges; for example, microbes don’t usually survive gene editing, and it’s difficult to develop a specific editing tool for them because gut microbiomes are hard to culture in a lab. 

 

A Need to First Identify Microbiome Profiles

The collaboration comes in 2 parts. First, MD Anderson Cancer Center and SNIPR Biome will work together to identify microbiome profiles. Then, they will use SNIPR Biome’s proprietary CRISPR technology to edit the microbiome. It is said the technology can eliminate the specific microbiota without harming the rest of the microbiome. The resulting microbiome therapeutics are expected to regulate gut microbiota in the human body and decrease high-grade adverse events in cancer patients.

As stated by MD Anderson Cancer Center, the therapy will enter preclinical trials during the collaboration which could lead to a potential clinical trial.

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