As Andrew Pollack writes in today’s NYTimes
, “After more than two decades of dashed expectations, the field of gene therapy appears close to reaching a milestone: a regulatory approval. The European Medicines Agency has recommended approval of a gene therapy to treat a rare genetic disease.”
The therapy recommended for approval in Europe, called Glybera, was developed by uniQure, a Dutch company. It treats lipoprotein lipase deficiency, a disease that affects only several hundred people in the European Union and a similar number in North America.
People with the disease have a genetic mutation that prevents them from producing an enzyme needed to break down certain fat-carrying particles that circulate in the bloodstream after meals. Without the enzyme, so much fat can accumulate that the blood looks white rather than red.
Glybera provides correct copies of the lipoprotein lipase gene, which allows patients to make some of the needed enzyme. A single treatment, consisting of injections into multiple spots on the leg muscles on the same day, is expected to last for several years, if not longer, said Jörn Aldag, chief executive of uniQure.
The reason I believe that this is important is because it brings “legitimacy” to the whole field of regenerative medicine. As readers of this online Journal are aware, my interest is in the field of ophthalmology. As you may be further aware, I am currently tracking eleven clinical trials involving the use of stem cells to treat ophthalmic disorders and sixteen gene therapy clinical trials. Several of these are showing promising results and the above approval, when it comes, will bring increased attention to the whole of this field, including the ophthalmic trials.
Anyone interested in obtaining my latest tables of ongoing clinical trials in either or both areas, please use the “Email Me” link to the right to request copies.