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Innovative tech at the heart of UCB

Posted by
Lauren Drowley, Element Genomics

Today UCB is marking World CRISPR Day. CRISPR, short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, is a technology that can be used to edit genes and its helping to change the face of drug discovery as a versatile tool to investigate and engineer the genome.

Scientists first discovered CRISPR in E. coli in the 1980s. They found that when E. coli survives attack from a virus, it incorporates some of the viral DNA into its own genetic code. In this way if attacked again by a virus with the same genetic code, complementary RNA binds to it and instructs CRISPR-associated enzymes, or “Cas” enzymes, to attack and neutralise the viral threat. It was later discovered, by Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, that Cas enzymes - specifically Cas9 can be reprogrammed in mammalian cells to cut nearly any part of the genome, allowing easier and more precise gene editing. 

Interest in the CRISPR/Cas system initially focused on its potential for treating diseases with a genetic basis, to actually ‘fix’ the mutated gene. But CRISPR/Cas has an important part to play in drug discovery – accelerating many stages of the drug discovery process. By using the CRISPR/Cas system scientists can inhibit or activate genes to determine disease causing pathways and so in turn identify potential drugs targets. In addition, using CRISPR/Cas it’s possible to create cellular and animal models that precisely mimic diseases, and these models can be used to better understand diseases as well as better predict the safety and efficacy of drugs.

At UCB one of our strengths is that we’re always hungry to use the right technology. We continuously monitor for new and disruptive technologies that can help us make better and faster decisions. So, it should be no surprise that at the core of UCB’s Element Genomics team is a suite of technologies we use to improve understanding of genome structure and function such as CRISPR/Cas editing. Typically, scientists will use CRISPR/Cas9 editing to make specific, permanent edits to a genome by cutting the DNA. But in addition to permanently changing the DNA sequence, we have the ability to alter how genes are regulated, allowing our Element Genomics team to study how genes and pathways of interest interact by turning the targeted sections of the genome on or off. 

Right now, this is an incredibly exciting time for science. Advancements in knowledge, understanding and technology is driving a rapid change in how we approach drug discovery and development, and it’s exciting to be involved in this process. If you want to work for a company that is striving to shape the future of modern medicine, then look at our current R&D vacancies.

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Posted by David Dranow, 14 November 2022

Happy World CRISPR Day! Thank you, Lauren, for sharing with us the history of CRISPR and explaining the impact it has on drug discovery. It's amazing to see how far this technology has come in our field. Truly powerful stuff.