In a few months, a daring clinical trialmay fundamentally lower heart attack risk in the most vulnerable people. If all goes well, it will just take one shot.
It’s no ordinary shot. The trial, led by Verve Therapeutics, a biotechnology company based in Massachusetts, will be one of the first to test genetic base editors directly inside the human body. A variant of the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, base editors soared to stardom when first introduced for their efficiency at replacing single genetic letters without breaking delicate DNA strands. Because it’s safer than the classic version of CRISPR, the new tool ignited hope that it could be used for treating genetic diseases.
Verve’s CEO, Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, took note. A cardiologist at Harvard University, Kathiresan wondered if base editing could help solve one of the main killers of our time: heart attacks. It seemed the perfect test case. We know one major cause of heart attacks—high cholesterol levels, particularly a version called LDL-C (Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol). We also know several major genes that control its level. And—most importantly—we know the DNA letter swap that can, in theory, drastically lower LDL-C and in turn throttle the risk of heart attacks.
There’s just one problem: we don’t know how base editors will behave inside a living human body.