Editas Medicine, Veritas Genetics Co-Founder and Biotech Phenom George Church Makes Time's 100 'Most Influential' List

Editas Medicine, Veritas Genetics Co-Founder and Biotech Phenom George Church Makes Time's 100 'Most Influential' List April 21, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Geneticist George Church, the famed biotech founder of multiple companies such as Editas Medicine and Veritas Genetics, earned a new accolade—one of the most influential people in the United States, the Boston Business Journal reported this morning.

Church secured a spot in Time’s 100 Most Influential List. In the issue Church was praised by comedian and television host Stephen Colbert for his genius. Colbert called Church a cross between Charles Darwin and Santa Claus due to his research.

“Through planned evolution, using gene-editing tools like CRISPR, he offers humanity a bag of powerful potential gifts: the return of extinct species, biological synthetic fuels, data storage of unprecedented density, mapping the brain, the treatment of infectious and congenital disease, and the reversal of aging. His contribution to genetic research and the imagination he brings to its application may change the entire world and our experience of life itself,” Colbert said of Church.

In 2016, Colbert hosted Church on his “Late Show” and talked about the possibilities of gene therapy using CRISPR-Cas9. Colbert was fascinated by the possibilities of gene editing, including the chance for longer life, bringing back extinct animals like the wooly mammoth and having adamantium claws like the Marvel superhero Wolverine.

"CRISPR" refers to Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats that occur in the genome of certain bacteria, from which the system was discovered. Cas9 is a CRISPR-associated endonuclease (an enzyme) known to act as the "molecular scissors" that cut and edit, or correct, disease-associated DNA in a cell. Gene therapy essentially transforms cells inside a patient to harness their immune system to fight an invading disease on its own. CRISPR-Cas9 is considered revolutionary technology, and as such is likely, at some level, to be used by many companies and institutions.

Church recently co-founded startup eGenesis, a Cambridge-based company that uses CRISPR gene editing to modify pig organs for use in organ transplants. Although using pig organs for transplants has been around for decades, there has been concern about cross-species infections. However, in March Church said using CRISPR they should be able to eliminate the antigens that cause the immune-rejection problem, as well as eradicating the viral problem.

Another of Church’s companies, Editas, inked a deal with Allergan in March that could be worth up to $1 billion. Under the terms of the deal, Allergan has the option to license up to five of Editas’ genome-editing ocular programs. That includes the lead program for Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA10), which is in preclinical development. Editas has several CRISPR genome editing platforms, including CRISPR/Cas9 and CRISPR/Cpf1.

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