As we know, COVID-19 is causing large scale loss of life and severe human suffering. With the pandemic spreading across the globe, researchers are racing against the clock to develop diagnostic tools, vaccines and treatments. Recently, WHO has launched a Solidarity clinical trial to assess relative effectiveness of four potential drugs against COVID-19. Further, there are close to 40 clinical trials of vaccines are ongoing, however, as per experts, it may take more than a year to develop a vaccine.
In order to enhance COVID-19 drug discovery and
develop rapid testing kits, various academic institutes, non-profit institutes,
scientific pioneers and biopharmaceutical companies have also been leveraging benefits
of CRISPR technology.
The CRISPR / Cas9 system has revolutionized the field of genetic engineering. It enables researchers to alter the genomes of a range of organisms with relative ease. Currently, it has emerged as a promising tool that is used extensively for editing genomes and for the development of novel treatment options. CRISPR is popularly known as search engine for biology, as it has emerged as a location finder, rather than site specific cleavage tool. The figure below highlights the key potential areas and benefits of CRISPR in order to fight against novel coronavirus.
Rapid and Economical Diagnostic Tests
Presently, COVID-19 testing capacity is limited
by a number of factors, such as requirements for complex procedures, need for
laboratory instrumentation, and dependence on limited supplies. Therefore,
there is an urgent need for rapid detection kits. CRISPR has been explored by
scientists for diagnosis of infectious diseases. The underlying mechanism
involves binding of guide RNA with a protein of Cas family which cuts the
target and shreds the nearby RNA or DNA. When CRISPR hits a target, the
reporter molecule releases a fluorescent signal. This is further analysed by
paper tests dipped into a patient sample, such as blood, urine, or saliva, which
further shows up as a line on the testing strip. Researchers have been
utilizing CRISPR-based tools and technologies to detect RNA of virus in patient
samples. Sherlock Biosciences has already made history, as it received
Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the US Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) for its Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit for the detection of the virus
that causes COVID-19. The kit is designed for use in laboratories and can
provide results within an hour. The company claims that more than 1 million
tests can be performed within a week.
Enhancing Drug Discovery
CRISPR technology aids in the study of interaction of virus with human cells. This enables the generation of appropriate cell models for faster discovery of new potential treatment options, or identification of an existing drug combination that may provide a treatment solution. For instance, researchers are exploring molecular mechanisms of the novel virus by utilizing CRISPR technology, which can ultimately assist in identifying potential drug combinations.
CRISPR-based COVID-19 Therapy
Researchers at Stanford University have been
working on the development of a gene targeting anti-viral agent against
COVID-19, using PAC-MAN technology. The technology has been modified to be used
against the deadly virus. It consists of a virus-killing enzyme, such as Cas13
and a guide RNA, which commands Cas13 to destroy specific nucleotide sequences
in the coronavirus’s genome. Based on several studies, it has been revealed
that PAC-MAN has the ability to neutralize the coronavirus and stop it from replicating
inside cells. Based on information available, work is currently ongoing, and
researchers are finding a solution to deliver this technology to lung cells. Multiple
delivery methods are currently under evaluation.
A lot of companies are currently active in providing CRISPR-based genome engineering services. To get a detailed information on the key players, recent developments, and the likely market evolution.