Recoding the human genome: Cellectis, Wyss aim to construct virus-resistant cells

By Brittany Farb Gruber

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/kirstypargeter)
(Image: Getty/kirstypargeter)
Researchers at the Wyss Institute are teaming up with Cellectis to develop “ultra-safe” human cells resistant to infection – which could enable more effective ways to manufacture protein therapeutics, vaccines, and cell therapies.

Together with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Cellectis​, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical firm, will develop new tools and methods to further efforts to recode the entire genome of cell lines derived from humans and other species.

These cell lines could resist viral infections and perform new functions, according to the company.

‘Ultra-safe’ goals

“The main goals of the partnership are to develop technology to get protocols to allow cost-effective writing of multiple genomes at gigabase scale, and enable construction of human cells resistant to all viruses,”​ said George Church, core faculty member of the Wyss Institute and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Program in Health Sciences and Technology.

“We hope that our genome project-write technology development will progress exponentially over a four- to eight-year period, enabling gigabase scale genomes to be made in weeks to months​,” he told BioPharma-Reporter.

The research group led by Church has already radically recoded the bacterium E. coli's genome. The recoded bacteria became resistant to most viruses and were biocontained in their intended laboratory environments.

Church says that the collaboration with Cellectis aims to build on previous accomplishments to develop “ultra-safe”​ human cells that are resistant to infection that will enable more effective ways to manufacture protein therapeutics, vaccines, cell therapies, as well as transplantable organs.

TALEN gene editing technology

Church’s team of researchers will be given access to Cellectis’ TALEN gene editing technology​ under the partnership. Short for “transcription activator-like effector nucleases,”​ TALENs are genome engineering enzymes that can introduce changes into the DNA code with high specificity and across an entire genome. TALENs can also be multiplexed to make multiple changes at a time.

A company spokesperson told us the partnership with the Wyss Institute has "no implications on Cellectis' manufacturing" ​noting that Cellectis CEO André Choulika and George Church from the Wyss Institute have a long-term relationship.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with the Wyss Institute and George Church's group on this very exciting recode project using Cellectis' technology to recode the entire genome of human and other species cell lines,"​ said Choulika in the press release announcing the partnership. "The precision, the performance and the flexibility of TALEN technology makes it the optimal gene editing platform for such a cutting-edge project."

Cellectis is not providing any additional comment on the collaboration at this time.

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