Imagine if you could edit cancer out of your DNA the same way you would delete a word from a document on your computer. Or copy a certain gene and paste it into another person’s body, giving them that genetic trait. It sounds like science fiction, but this is exactly what CRISPR technology, which recently awarded its inventor with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, is all about.
What is CRISPR?
Simply put, CRISPR is a pair of “genetic scissors,” which enable you to cut a certain part of a DNA strand, and remove or replace it with a different strand. While CRISPR (short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has been known to science for quite some time, researchers Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were the ones who were able to utilise this bacterial immune mechanism for gene editing.
Their discovery and research into the subject have made them both laureates of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Charpentier and Doudna are researchers at the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens (MPUSP) in Berlin, and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively. Only five women before them have ever won the Nobel Prize in this category. Their work could potentially lay the groundwork for the future of healthcare.
How CRISPR Gene Editing Can Change the Future
There is still quite a lot of research to be done into CRISPR and the way in which its potential genome editing tools should be used. However, the technology’s potential uses are vast and quite mind-boggling. For example, it could theoretically be used to cure diseases, by “erasing” the gene responsible for generating them. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS or Parkinson’s, could potentially be edited out of a person’s genetic code years before symptoms occur.
Genetic defects discovered in utero could potentially be removed before the baby is even born. Various forms of cancer, allergies, diabetes and numerous other medical conditions might be erased altogether. And it might not stop there, even aesthetic uses, such as changing one’s skin, hair or eye colour are on the table, making this topic a controversy along with its endless potential.
In 2020, while the world was crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, CRISPR was looked into as a possible technology for rapid result COVID-19 tests.
The potential it brings and the hype surrounding the technology has made CRISPR one of the hottest scientific topics in the world today. It is no wonder, then, that the technology has made its way into popular culture, with a few mainstream documentaries looking into the subject, such as Netflix’s Designer DNA Episode on Explained and TV show Biohackers, as well as the award-winning documentary Human Nature.
The Companies Developing CRISPR Technology
Bristol Myers Squibb
This American pharma company is heavily invested in the field of CRISPR for cancer treatment. In 2020, the company announced a $65 million payment and $15 million investment in startup Repare Therapeutics, which is using CRISPR to develop several treatments aimed at treating and eliminating cancer.
This French company develops cancer treatments using CRISPR. Cellectis’ technology uses the technology to modify T cells in healthy donors, making sure they are compatible with the recipient. The donor’s antibody cells are then used to attack and destroy leukaemia cells in the patient’s body.
This American company is trying to cure a cause of blindness using CRISPR. Editas intends to perform clinical trials using CRISPR, designed to treat Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a rare genetic condition that results in blindness.
This novel company is entirely CRISPR-focused. Intellia uses CRISPR to develop treatments for cancer, genetic disorders, inflammatory disorders, viral infections and more.
Sangamo is responsible for the world’s first in vivo trial of gene editing. Among its many activities, the company is researching CRISPR treatments that could potentially immunise people from HIV.
This Boston-based company has been at the forefront of research into the treatment of cystic fibrosis (CF) for more than 30 years. Vertex is not shy when it comes to exploring new ways of treating the condition, and in 2020, announced that it has entered into a partnership designed to develop CRISPR-based therapies for cystic fibrosis.
How CRISPR Can Impact Other Markets
Aside from the obvious impact CRISPR has on the biotechnology and medical technology industries, there are quite a few other market segments that could potentially be impacted by CRISPR, including:
- The pharmaceutical industry — while the companies using CRISPR to develop new treatments will obviously be affected by the novel technology, it will also impact other companies. For example, if a CRISPR-based solution cures diabetes, it would cause numerous companies developing diabetes treatments to rethink their business models.
- Insurance — simply put, if an insurance company knows for a fact that a client will never get a certain disease, such as cancer or Parkinson’s, it will be much easier for it to offer lower prices on health and life insurance policies.
- Cosmetics industry — both the consumer cosmetics and the cosmetic surgery industries could be impacted by CRISPR. For example, products and procedures used to reduce acne could be rendered obsolete.
- Nutritional supplement industry — this industry relies heavily on certain deficiencies caused by genetic disorders and diet choices made by individuals.
- Food tech — using genetic engineering on crops and livestock is not a new approach. However, with CRISPR, these changes could be made faster, more precise, and offer new possibilities for better and healthier produce, including dairy and meat.
How to Invest in CRISPR
Naturally, with such incredible potential to impact a wide array of industries, CRISPR also presents many investment opportunities. To give investors exposure to the companies involved with this technology, eToro has created the CRISPR-Tech CopyPortfolio, a thematic investment portfolio, comprising stocks of companies which are researching or utilising CRISPR. The investment strategy focuses on both large-cap pharma companies and pure CRISPR players, giving investors a balanced long-term investment option.
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