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No danger of cancer through gene therapy virus
Date:6/19/2013

In fall 2012, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the modified adeno-associated virus AAV-LPL S447X as the first ever gene therapy for clinical use in the Western world. uniQure, a Dutch biotech company, had developed AAV-LPL S447X for the treatment of a rare inherited metabolic disease called lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD) which affects approximately one or two out of one million people. The disease causes severe, life-threatening inflammations of the pancreas. Afflicted individuals carry a defect in the gene coding for the lipoprotein lipase enzyme which is necessary for breakdown of fatty acids. AAV-LPLS447X shall be used as a viral vector to deliver an intact gene copy to affected cells.

The viruses modified for gene therapy cannot integrate their DNA into the host cell genome, because they lack a particular enzyme needed for this. Nevertheless, integration may happen occasionally. "We had to exclude that AAV-LPLS447X tends to integrate at sites in the genome where this integration might activate cancer-promoting genes. This is exactly what had been observed with a virus used for gene therapy," says Dr. Manfred Schmidt, a molecular biologist. Schmidt leads a research group at NCT Heidelberg and DKFZ that studies the safety of gene-therapeutic methods.

In collaboration with scientists from uniQure, the Heidelberg researchers analyzed the genome of five LPLD patients who had been treated with AAV-LPLS447X . In addition, they also studied mice following intramuscular or intravenous administration of the therapeutic virus.

The analysis of 15 million individual genomes of five treated patients showed, as expected, that AAV-LPLS447X rarely integrates into the genome of the host cells (fewer than 1 out of 1,000 AAV-LPLS447X particles). In most cases, the viral genome persists in the cytoplasm as a separate structure. If it is integrated, this happens at random sites. The researchers did not find any tendency for integratio
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Contact: Dr. Sibylle Kohlstädt
s.kohlstaedt@dkfz.de
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert

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