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Researchers use CRISPR to reveal gene targets in 30 types of cancer

Published on 11/04/19 at 11:18am

Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Open Targets have been able to identify thousands of genes which play a fundamental role in the survival of 30 different cancers.

Using gene editing tool CRISPR, the researchers picked apart every gene in 300 cancer models from 30 types of cancer.

The findings allowed the team to then prioritise and rank 600 drug targets that show the most promise as cancer treatments in the future.

The research, which was published in Nature, brings cancer researchers a step closer to creating a ‘Cancer Dependency Map’ – a map of the mutations that cause cancer cells to grow.

Dr Mathew Garnett, co-lead author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Open Targets, said: “The Cancer Dependency Map is a huge effort to identify all the weaknesses that exist in different cancers so we can use this information to empower the next generation of precision cancer treatments.”

In building the map, the team used CRIPR to disrupt nearly 20,000 genes, in order to discover which genes are fundamental for cancer’s survival.

The researchers focused on common cancers such as lung, colon and breast cancer, as well as cancers in which there is high unmet need, such as lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

From a longer list of thousands of genes, the team then created a shortlist of 600 genes that showed the most promise for drug development in the future.

Currently, 90% of drugs fail during development. It is hoped the research will increase precision and improve the rate at which new candidates pass through clinical trials.   

Dr Kosuke Yusa, who co-authored the study, commented: “CRISPR is an incredibly powerful tool that enables us to do science at a scale and with a precision that we couldn't do five years ago. With CRISPR we have discovered a very exciting opportunity to develop new drugs targeting cancers.”  

Dr Francesco Iorio, co-first author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Open Targets, said: “To give a new drug the best chance of succeeding in the very final phases of clinical trials, it is crucial to select the best and most promising drug target at the beginning of the drug development process. For the first time, in a data-driven way, we provide guidance at a genome-scale on which new therapeutic targets should be put forward for the development of new anti-cancer drugs.”

Louis Goss

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