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NIH to Launch $190M Genome Editing Research Program

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will launch an effort to remove barriers from the adoption of genome editing for treating patients. The agency's Somatic Cell Genome Editing program will award researchers around $190 million over the next six years, pending availability of funds.

Under the program, funded by the NIH's Common Fund, researchers are expected to collaborate to improve delivery mechanisms for targeting gene editing tools in patients, develop new genome editors, and develop assays for testing the editing tools' efficacy and safety in human and animal cells. In addition, researchers will assemble a genome editing toolkit containing the resulting knowledge, methods, and tools that will be shared with the scientific community.

Somatic cells include any non-reproductive cells in the body, otherwise known as cells that do not pass DNA down to the next generation. Because researchers will focus on somatic cells, any alterations to a patient's DNA caused by genome editing will not be inherited.

Multiple rare diseases, as well as certain common disorders, are caused by changes in a person's genetic material, either through inherited mutations from parents or through epigenetics. Despite comprehensive interest and investment in genome editing, many challenges linger and prevent broad adoption of the technology in the clinical space.  

The NIH expects funding opportunity announcements to be published within a month.

"The focus of the Somatic Cell Genome Editing program is to dramatically accelerate the translation of these technologies to the clinic for treatment of as many genetic diseases as possible," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement.