The technology allows scientists to more easily disable genes or change their function by replacing DNA sequences. When applied to mouse or rat model genetic engineering, the technology could help advance the scientific understanding of disease mechanisms. Most recently, scientists have shown that it’s possible to use CRISPR to edit the genes of immune cells, rid mice of muscular dystrophy, cure them of a rare liver disease and make human cells immune to HIV.
Some companies, such as AstraZeneca, are also turning to CRISPR to find drug targets in preclinical models modified to resemble human diseases.
Charles River Laboratories was one of the first CROs to publically announce its licensing of the technology, though the company offered few details on what it plans to do with it.
“We have already attained a license to use CRISPR-Cas9 technology and we'll continue to assess the technology and services we should have in our portfolio,” CEO Jim Foster said in the company’s most recent earnings call.
Wade Sunada, Ph.D., Managing Consultant at the Life Science Strategy Group, told Outsourcing-Pharma.com: “Basically, the CRISPR tech will allow for faster and cheaper model creation, as well as creation of more complex research models.”
Taconic and the Jackson Laboratory are two examples of companies, in addition to CRL, that are at the forefront of CRISPR adoption to help with the creation of new research models.
The technology can help companies shave months off development timelines and reduce costs to allow the creation of more models for their dollar, as well as to help facilitate the creation of “quick and dirty” models for particular genes, Sunada said.
And as far as the ethical issues regarding the altering of the human germline, which has caused some trepidation from the NIH and other scientists, Sunada noted that for CROs, no new questions will arise since they’re only using the technology for research models, including customized rat and rabbit models. He also said that while humanized models have yet to gain traction, they eventually will be created with more ease via CRISPR.
And as the industry pivots to developing more personalized medicine, CRISPR may end up helping drug developers advance more targeted treatments.
“In the end, it’s just another technology that creates genetically modified research models…but it’ll make custom-made research models more acceptable, and change the way pharma companies think about research models and use them,” Sunada said.