According to the company, that small change should be enough to permanently lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a fatty molecule that causes arteries to clog and harden over time.
A patient in New Zealand had an inherited risk of extra high cholesterol and already suffered from heart disease. However, the company believes the same technique could eventually be used on millions of people to prevent cardiovascular disease.
“If this works and if it’s safe, this is the answer to heart attack — this is a cure,” says Sekar Kathiresan, the gene researcher who started Verve three years ago and is the company’s CEO.
It’s been 10 years since scientists developed CRISPR, a technology to make targeted changes to DNA in cells, but so far the method has only been tested on people with rare diseases like sickle cell anemia, and only in research trials.
If Verve’s experiment works, it could signal a far wider use of gene editing to prevent common conditions. Much of the world’s population has LDL that is too high, but many people cannot keep it under control. Worldwide, more people die from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease than from any other cause.
“Of all the different genome edits going on in the clinic, this could have the most profound impact because of the number of people who could benefit,” says Eric Topol, a cardiologist and researcher at Scripps Research.