Chinese scientist criticized for risking ‘gene-edited’ babies’ lives

He Jiankui sparked an international scientific and ethical row when used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November. (AP)
Updated 08 January 2019

Chinese scientist criticized for risking ‘gene-edited’ babies’ lives

  • He Jiankui sparked an international scientific and ethical row when he used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November
  • ‘Pretty much everyone he talked to had said to him: ‘Don’t do it’’

LONDON: A leading geneticist who ran the conference where a Chinese scientist said he had made the world’s first “gene-edited” babies condemned him on Monday for potentially jeopardizing lives and having no biology training.
Robin Lovell-Badge, organizer of the November 2018 event where China’s He Jiankui made his controversial presentation, described him as a rich man with a “huge ego” who “wanted to do something he thinks will change the world.”
He Jiankui, associate professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, sparked an international scientific and ethical row when he said he had used a technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the embryonic genes of twin girls born in November.
He did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Chinese authorities are investigating him and have meanwhile halted this kind of research.
In videos posted online and at the conference, He said he believed his gene editing would help protect the girls from infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Lovell-Badge, a professor and gene expert at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute who led the organizing committee for the November Human Genome Editing Summit at Hong Kong University, said it was impossible to know what He had actually done.
“If it’s true (that he edited the genomes in the way he says) then it is certainly possible that he has put the children’s lives at risk,” he told journalists in London.
“No-one knows what these mutations will do.”
Lovell-Badge said he originally invited He to the conference after hearing in scientific circles that he was “up to something.” Lovell-Badge hoped that asking He to interact with specialists would encourage him to “control his urges.”
“Pretty much everyone he talked to had said to him: ‘Don’t do it’,” he said. “But clearly it was all too late.”
Lovell-Badge said he learned of He’s claims on the eve of the conference, and had an emergency meeting with him.
“He thought that he was doing good, and that what he was doing was the next big thing,” Lovell-Badge said. But he had “no basic training in biology” and the experiments he said he had carried out “ignored all the norms of how you conduct any clinical trial or clinical experiment.”
“He should certainly be stopped from doing anything like this again,” he said.
Lovell-Badge said he had not heard from He since early December, but understood he was in Shenzhen in a guarded apartment during the probe.
Chinese authorities and institutions, as well as hundreds of international scientists, have condemned He and said any application of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes was against the law and medical ethics of China.


GSK to produce 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine booster in 2021

Updated 28 May 2020

GSK to produce 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine booster in 2021

  • British drugmaker in talks with governments on backing for the program
  • Experts have predicted that a successful vaccine will take over a year to develop

GlaxoSmithKline will expand production of vaccine efficacy boosters, or adjuvants, to produce 1 billion doses in 2021 for use in shots for COVID-19, the British drugmaker said on Thursday.
The London-listed company said it was in talks with governments on backing for the program, which would effectively allow for a scaling up of production of future successful vaccines for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
GSK is one of several companies in the race to develop a vaccine for the respiratory illness that currently has no treatment and has already killed about 350,000 people.
The British drugmaker is working on its own COVID vaccine with Sanofi.
Adjuvants have been shown to create a stronger and longer-lasting immunity against infections.
GSK’s adjuvant can reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, which would allow for more vaccines to be made, the British drugmaker said.
Experts have predicted that a successful vaccine will take over a year to develop, and companies and governments are pouring money into dozens of programs as the only viable solution that will allow the world to escape durably from coronavirus lockdowns and get economies moving again.