Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is setting up a task force on gene therapy research to encourage research in the emerging field.

The research body among other things has proposed forming the task force to explore gene editing based therapeutic approaches to treat illnesses.

In a call for research proposals, ICMR has stressed that many inherited disorders are not treated by current available drugs or traditional therapies.

Gene Therapy refers to the process of introduction, removal or change in content of an individual’s genetic material with the goal of treating the disease and a possibility of achieving long term cure.

While the western world has made considerable strides with regards to gene therapy over the past 30 years, ICMR stated that drugs like Luxuturna for Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition which leads to breakdown of retinal cells in the eye, and leads to low vision, or Yescarta which is a cell therapy for cancer, are currently in clinical trial phase.

“However for the vast majority of inherited diseases, appropriate targeted therapies are yet unavailable despite the large load of genetic disease in our population. To address this particular gap, ICMR is inviting proposals to fund gene therapy research projects,” the research body has said in it’s circular.

ICMR has narrowed down on genetic diseases affecting the brain and muscles, eye disorders affecting the retina and cornea, heart diseases and blood disorders like Thalassemia, Sickle Cell Disease and Haemophilia. It has also stressed on diseases like Cancer, Diabetes and Lung diseases. “The strategies proposed shuold have a possibility of translation into future human trials,” the circular states.

In recently released guidelines on gene therapy ICMR stated, “India has large burden of genetic disorders and unmet medical needs and gene therapy can prove to be a turning point in treatment of such disorders. However, it also brings along with it unique technical risks and ethical challenges. Creation of babies using germline gene editing by a Chinese scientist recently, attracted global criticism and fuelled a debate on ethical concerns regarding applications of gene therapy technologies. This also brought to forefront the requirement of stringent guidelines and regulations to prevent misuse and premature commercialization.”

It further said, “Many countries around the world have developed rules and guidelines to regulate gene therapy trials. Taking cognizance of situation, it was felt necessary to frame national guidelines and regulations to direct scientists and clinicians including industry regarding the procedures and requirements to be followed for performing gene therapy in India.”