When superstar cardiologist Dr. Sekar Kathiresan cataloged genes associated with coronary artery disease, he found nearly 60: some that decimate blood levels of LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and therefore protect against heart attacks, some that cause inflammation of arteries and so raise the risk of heart attacks, and scores more with effects on triglycerides, blood vessels, and other risk factors.
While existing drugs mostly operate far downstream of the genes, Kathiresan thought therapies operating at the level of DNA would let cardiologists “reimagine how we treat coronary artery disease, permanently protecting against it,” he said.
On Tuesday, a company Kathiresan co-founded came out of stealth mode, announcing its intention to do precisely that. Verve Therapeutics, with $58.5 million in seed funding led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), aims to develop CRISPR gene editing therapies as one-and-done treatments for heart disease. Verve plans to alter people’s DNA to turn risk-raising or even neutral genes into variants that protect against heart disease, including by slashing levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, Kathiresan said. “We think we can confer resistance to heart attacks” that will last a lifetime, he added.
Congratulations to Sek K…for having tremendous vision and taking a bold steps to make it happen. Targeting elimination of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (heart and vascular) disease, the leading cause of death in the US, is a wonderful goal. Skeptics beware, Dr. Kathiresan is brilliant, strategic, and a force of nature. If anyone can drive this to successful outcome, it will be Sek. Best of luck and we are all rooting for you!
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