October 28, 2023
CRISPR gene editing could kill HIV. But is it a cure?
In a provocative first step toward an elusive end to a devastating disease that has claimed 40 million lives, three patients have received CRISPR gene-editing therapies in an effort to eradicate HIV from their bodies. The results — whether the men are cured or not after the one-time intravenous infusions this year — have not yet been disclosed by the San Francisco biotech company that created the technology based on Nobel Prize-winning research by UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna. But the potential treatment, called EBT-101, is safe and caused no major side effects, in Brussels this week. Six more men will be treated, perhaps some at UC San Francisco, with higher doses. Participating in the research program is potentially risky: Participants stop their protective anti-HIV drugs for 12 weeks after gene-editing treatment to see if the virus is gone. Data will be presented at a medical conference next year, according to the company. “We are opening the door for how this new drug will work and what potential it has for people living with HIV,” said Dr. William Kenne vice president of clinical development. “Ultimately, we see this as a fundamentally new approach.” The novel strategy could potentially treat other chronic infections where the virus hides latent, such as hepatitis and herpes, he said. It leaves human DNA intact. “We were super excited about this, and to get the chance to be among the first to do human studies of gene editing for a cure,” said Dr. Priscilla Hsue, professor of medicine and principal investigator for the study’s clinical trial site at UCSF. “If we can permanently remove viral DNA, the thought is, people would get this infusion and then be done.” EBT-101 is designed to find the specific viral sequences so that it doesn’t cut human DNA. The CRISPR-based therapy uses an empty virus to deliver the “guide RNA” that marks where to cut. An enzyme called Cas9 acts like scissors. The therapeutic solution is given intravenously. It received the FDA’s “fast track” designation last July after experiments showed success in animals. A single injection safely and efficiently removed SIV, a virus related to HIV, from the genomes of rhesus monkeys. In earlier work, it removed HIV from nine of 23 mice. But there is a big leap from promising results in mice to success in humans. In addition to UCSF, patients will be recruited at Quest Clinical Research in San Francisco, Washington University in St. Louis and Cooper University in Camden, New Jersey. In the four decades since the AIDS virus was isolated, treatment has transformed its care. If taken every day, powerful antiretroviral drugs can suppress the virus, controlling illness. Medicine can also prevent infection. But a cure is needed to end the pandemic. Worldwide, nearly 39 million people are living with HIV. About 77% of them are receiving treatment. There have only been three known cases of an HIV cure so far. Two were men who received bone marrow transplants from donors who carried a mutation that blocks HIV infection. The third was a woman who received a transplant of umbilical cord blood. But all three treatments were targeting cancer, so this is not a practical option for the average HIV patient. “The future of so many lives depends on another breakthrough,” said Mark King, an Atlanta-based HIV/AIDS activist and author of the book who has lived with the virus for nearly 40 years. “A lot of people think that this was all rectified when we got successful treatments,” he said. “But the difference between a treatment and a cure, or a vaccine, is profound.” Excision BioTherapeutics was founded on work in the lab of Kamel Khalili, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and director of its Center for NeuroVirology and Gene Editing. Its research is supported, in part, by the taxpayer-supported California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. The early results of its study were presented at the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy on Wednesday. CRISPR gene editing, an ingenious system discovered by Jennifer Doudna, a biologist with UC-Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute, can cure genetic disease by using little molecular scissors to cut out a piece of a person’s DNA. It is now being used to treat , such as sickle cell anemia, nerve disease and congenital blindness. Scientists wondered: Could CRISPR cure HIV by cutting the virus’s DNA? Excision’s approach cuts the virus in two places, removing genes that are essential to replication. “This is an exceptionally ambitious and important trial,” said Fyodor Urnov, professor of molecular and cell biology at UC-Berkeley and a gene editor at IGI, in an email. “It would be good to know sooner than later” if it works, he said, “including, potentially, no effect.” Initial research in Khalili’s lab showed that CRISPR could find and destroy the HIV genes in cells. The results were welcomed with caution by long-term survivors such as King. “Am I intrigued? Yes. Wary? Absolutely. We have been here before, many times. We’ve heard of a lot of promising developments over the years, only to have the rug pulled out from us — because of the vexing nature of how HIV operates in the body.” The reason that HIV has been so tough to eradicate is that it hides in our cells, said Dr. Jyoti Gupta of the PACE Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, which specializes in HIV care. “The virus is very smart,” she said. “It integrates into the host genome of our immune cells, which are supposed to protect us from infection. It just lies there, hiding.” “As soon as someone stops the therapy, the latent virus starts replicating again, within days,” said Gupta. “Then there’s virus everywhere.” Patients in Excision’s trials will be monitored for 15 years, said Kennedy. Even if it just stops replication for awhile, that’s a benefit, said Gupta. “Less is more. So if a patient can come in for an infusion once a year, for instance, and the virus won’t resurface for a year, that’s reasonable.” The hope is that Excision’s therapy could become a lifelong cure, freeing patients from daily pill-popping “Scientists tell me that this is going to be part of a cure some day,” said Berkeley-based AIDS activist Matt Sharp, 68, who has lived with the virus for 38 years. “And I shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Here we go again.’ ” “Now we just have to get the research done,” he said. “We’ve got to have hope, because the epidemic isn’t over.”
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Star Wars Director Says It's About Time A Woman Makes A Star Wars Movie
Jan 02, 2024
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeed Obaid-Chinoy is directing an upcoming Star Wars movie that brings back Daisy Ridley in the role of Rey. Obaid-Chinoy will become the first woman to direct a Star Wars film, dating back to the franchise's origins in the 1970s. Speaking about this, Obaid-Chinoy told CNN that she is "very thrilled" to make the movie and create something that is "very special.""We're in 2024 now, and I think it's about time we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away," she said.Obaid-Chinoy won Best Documentary, Short Subjects Academy Awards for Saving Face (2012) and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015).In 2020, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy told the BBC that a woman would eventually direct a Star Wars movie, saying that would "absolutely" happen, "without question." Victoria Mahoney was a second unit director on The Rise of Skywalker, but a woman has never claimed a top directing credit on a Star Wars movie.On the TV side of things, The Mandalorian has featured a number of female directors, including Deborah Chow and Bryce Dallas Howard. Chow went on to direct the Obi-Wan TV series, too.Another high-profile franchise that has never had a female director is James Bond. Producer Barbara Broccoli and Skyfall director Sam Mendes have both said they want to see a woman direct a future 007 film.As for Obaid-Chinoy's Star Wars movie, little is known about it apart from the fact that Ridley will come back to play Rey. It is expected that this film will be the first of the three new Star Wars films to come to theaters, possibly releasing in December 2025.According to a report, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight is writing the Rey movie, taking over for Damon Lindelof and Justin Britt-Gibson.
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NBA Names Clare Akamanzi CEO Of NBA Africa
Jan 02, 2024 15:29
The NBA named Clare Akamanzi – an accomplished business executive and international trade and investment lawyer – as CEO of NBA Africa. Akamanzi will start her position on Jan. 23, 2024, and report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum. In this role, Akamanzi will oversee the NBA’s business and basketball development efforts in Africa and will be responsible for continuing to grow the popularity of basketball, the NBA and the Basketball Africa League (BAL) across the continent, including through grassroots basketball development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, and social responsibility initiatives that improve the livelihoods of African youth and families. For the last six and a half years, Akamanzi was CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), where she spearheaded Rwanda’s economic development by enabling private sector growth. Under Akamanzi’s leadership, RDB implemented several business policy reforms and initiatives that led to significant investment and development for the country, including through partnerships with the BAL, Arsenal FC, Paris Saint-Germain FC, FC Bayern Munich and TIME Magazine, among others. “Clare’s business acumen, international experience and familiarity with basketball and the NBA make her the ideal executive to lead our business in Africa,” says Tatum. “NBA Africa and the Basketball Africa League are well-positioned for continued growth, and under Clare’s leadership we believe these initiatives will transform economies, communities and lives across the continent.” “I’ve seen firsthand how sports can positively impact businesses, families and communities in Africa, and the NBA and the BAL are a perfect example of that,” says Akamanzi. “The NBA has done an incredible job growing basketball and the economy around it across the continent, and I’m excited about the enormous opportunities ahead to build on that momentum.” Previously, Akamanzi was Chief Operating Officer of RDB and Head of Strategy and Policy Unit, Office of the President of the Republic of Rwanda. She has extensive international trade, business and diplomatic experience, having previously worked for the Rwandan Government at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and at the Rwandan Embassy in London, England. Akamanzi has worked or studied in seven different countries and holds an honorary LLD from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, in recognition of her work in Rwanda. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was the recipient of three prestigious awards for academic excellence and distinguished contribution to the community: the Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award, the Raymond & Josephine Vernon Award and the Robert Kennedy Public Service Award. In addition, Akamanzi holds a Master of Laws degree in international trade and investments from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Akamanzi has served on several company boards, including the World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation, ECOBANK and Aviation, Travel and Logistics (ATL) company. She was recognized by Forbes as one of Africa’s Top 50 Powerful Women in 2020.
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