Gene therapy is close to revolutionising the pharmaceutical industry, and there’s one thing that can help

2021-08-04
Gene therapy is close to revolutionising the pharmaceutical industry, and there’s one thing that can help

During the last German-Lithuanian Economic Forum in 2020, it was mentioned that, owing to the coronavirus pandemic and recent technological advancements, biotechnology had become one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. What panellists found fascinating is that the development of biotech promises to not only transform how we treat viruses, but also how we cure other illnesses such as cancer, autoimmune and infectious diseases. This is where the new gene therapy – a area in which both Germany and Lithuania enjoy competitive advantage – could come in handy.

Cas9 gene therapy is revolutionary

According to Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys, advancements in cCas9 genetic technology have the potential to fuel a revolution in the pharmaceutical industry. A major benefit of this new c technology is that it is easy to pre-program Cas9 genetic scissors to any DNA sequence, allowing direct targeting of any genome.

Alongside allowing researchers to experiment in labs, this technology has revolutionized gene therapy. Indeed, it renders gene therapy possible in many different fields and organisms. However, now that the technology is here, all scientists must fine tune how they use it to target specific genes.

Prof Horst Domdey notices that in this field there are numerous opportunities for German-Lithuanian cooperation. Germany recently embarked upon a new programme for therapeutic development. Already its scientists are doing much to introduce therapeutic treatment – itself an area that has only just begun. For Prof Domdey, the hypothesis of using genetic therapy emerged in the 1980s. Yet, the science field was vastly different during this period, as it was using DNA and RNA, while the central topic was cystic fibrosis mutations. Germans enthusiastically sought to cure the disease with genetic therapy. But sadly, this effort faltered due to a lack of actual progress. This is what we finally have now.

What is noteworthy is that currently there are companies in Germany trying to harness gene therapy for treating eye diseases. However, it is very difficult to convince venture capitalists to fund such slowly moving projects, even though they have such a high potential. After all, once scientists successfully use gene therapy to combat specific diseases, it will become significantly easier to apply the technology to other diseases. In short, the pharmaceutical industry is in dire need of gene therapy project funding

But challenges remain

As the panellists agreed, it is important to remember that gene therapy research and treatments remain expensive. As a result, both patients and investors are cautious about investing in it, without significant signs of success. Of course, gene therapy is designed to treat very rare diseases, making it inherently costly, and public availability is still a problem. Given this, decreasing the costs of the treatments and research is the salient challenge.

Fixing this issue is possible through cooperation. Not only between businesses but also countries. . Lithuania, for example, has great potential with Cas9 technology and is eager to explore new avenues for cooperation. But first, the country has to help its international partners, such as Germany, foster the perception that these technologies are important. If successful, the world might see a revolution in the pharma industry in the coming decade.

Agnė Vaitkevičienė mentioned that Lithuania’s biotechnology sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. In fact, its growth rate is significantly faster than the European average. Germany and Lithuania need to cooperate by nurturing biotech startups, collaborating academically, and trying to secure as much funding as possible. This should involve sharing not only each country’s research, but also by opening up each other’s s markets.

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