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In 2008, researchers were making great strides in what’s known as RNAi therapy. RNAi stands for RNA interference. It is the natural process of gene silencing.RNAi therapy is the synthetic process performed by researchers and scientists to lower the protein output of selected genes by adding RNA into cells. Induced gene silencing with RNAi therapy would completely stop them from producing harmful proteins – proteins that cause cancer and other serious illnesses.
Here’s how it works:
- Doctors identify the cancerous RNA that has corrupted your cells.
- They then create tiny molecules called small interfering RNA or siRNA – that are specifically designed to bind to the bad RNA inside the cell and “silence” their effect.
- They take this RNA therapy and inject it into your body.
- This RNA therapy enters the cells and begins binding to the cancer RNA, neutralizing its effect.
- If all goes according to plan, the cancer is switched off and the body goes back to normal.
Pharmaceutical monster company Pfizer devoted an entire division solely to RNAi therapy back in 2008. Other big pharma companies like Novartis, Roche, and Abbot Labs took note and developed massive labs of their own, investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the process. They then hired top-notch doctors to head up their RNAi teams.
But in February 2011, just three years later, the progress being made with RNAi therapy came to a screeching halt. Pfizer – the first to invest its time, money, and manpower into RNAi therapy – was also the first to fold on its RNAi efforts. The others followed.
So, what happened in the span of three years that warranted shutting down big pharma operations in the RNAi drug and treatment world?
The answer, actually, is not completely known. But there are theories…
Why Big Biopharma Companies Shut Down Their RNAi Therapy Labs
First of all, RNAi therapy was still relatively new as a concept in 2008. One of the biggest problems scientists had when testing RNAi therapies was that of delivery. Researchers struggled for years trying to input RNAi strands into genes. Sometimes the strands were too long and they muddled the intended effect on the gene. Other times the RNA strands were too short and didn’t have the strength to provoke their intended effect. The procedure had to be performed just right.
And this is likely why the big biopharma companies shut down their RNAi testing labs. They weren’t seeing results fast enough. And they were unprepared to recoup what they invested in the experiments.
Meanwhile, much smaller labs were testing RNAi therapies on their own terms. Universities too. In fact, these smaller groups of researchers made so much progress since the big biopharma firms shut down that several RNAi-based drugs are now moving through clinical trials.
This is stellar news. It means that, before long, RNAi therapy could be available to the public – to eradicate cancerous cells.
The “little-guy labs” may not have had the funding the big biopharma companies had, but they had the patience to push through each failure. And it paid off.
In fact, earlier this year, doctors at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre took RNAi therapy a step further. They used RNA injections to stimulate telomeres in human cells. Telomeres protect your DNA. But as your cells replicate, the telomeres protecting each one comes back a little bit thinner and a little bit less dependable than before. So over the years, as the telomeres keep shrinking and the DNA gets more exposed, your cells become less and less accurate copies of themselves.
This process is called, of course, aging.
But now, with RNAi therapy, doctors are working to reverse those effects – as they managed to do at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. Doctors successfully silenced the genes of a group of mice. They did so by injecting them with modified DNA which activated high levels of the gene that produces the telomerase protein. This actually allowed the mice to live 40% longer than their average two-year lifespan.
That’s equivalent to 32 extra years for humans.
Speaking of humans, earlier this year, researchers at Stanford University used RNA injections to stimulate telomerase in human cells. During the initial tests, the RNA therapy reversed the biological age of human skin and muscle by decades. It’s like taking a 60-year-old man and making him 35 again. Or aging backwards 25 years.
So what’s next for RNAi therapy? When will it hit the market? And is it possible to invest in it?
It most certainly is.
In fact, one relatively obscure company is racing ahead to get RNAi drugs approved.