Biopharma Tackles COVID-19, HIV and Other Viruses with Gene and Cell Therapies

Deploying CRISPR against hidden HIV reservoirs

Excision BioTherapeutics is applying both CRISPR and AAV delivery toward solving a different but equally vexing problem in antiviral drug development: HIV.

Even though antiretroviral drugs can tamp down the virus to the point where it’s no longer detectable in the blood, it can hide out in “reservoirs” and emerge later.

Excision licensed gene-editing technology developed at Temple University that uses CRISPR to cut out several pieces of the HIV genome. “If you just make a single cut, the virus can mutate around it. We make multiple cuts to deactivate the viral genome,” CEO Daniel Dornbusch said in an interview. A recent trial in nonhuman primates showed the CRISPR version reached every tissue in the body where HIV reservoirs reside, Dornbusch said.

Excision is working on similar treatments for other viruses, including herpes and hepatitis B, and with the proper funding, it could even address COVID-19, he added. But the company’s priority is to gain FDA approval to start human testing of the HIV treatment by the end of this year.

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