Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG folded its $1 billion xenotransplantation effort in 2001 because of safety concerns about pig viruses that could be passed to humans. George Church, a Harvard Medical School genetics professor and researcher, tackled that problem two years ago, using a new gene-editing tool known as CRISPR to trim away potentially harmful virus genes that have impeded the use of pig organs for transplants in humans. Church has since formed a company named eGenesis Bio to develop humanized pigs that do not provoke a rejection response or transfer viruses to people. The company last month raised $38 million in venture funding. Eventually, Church said, the process could enable researchers to harvest a dozen different organs and tissues from a single pig. Church estimates the first transplants involving humanized pig organs could occur in a clinical trial later this year, but these would only be used on people too sick to receive human organs. Genome pioneer Craig J. Venters Synthetic Genomics Inc has been working for two years with United Therapeutics on editing the pig genome and mixing in human cells to overcome the complex issues involved in immune rejection. “It’s not like changing a couple genes and you’ve got it solved,” Venter said.
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