Gene Therapy Scare as Pioneer Patient Develops Leukaemia

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Byline: JAMES CHAPMAN

THE safety of pioneering gene therapy experiments was called into question last night as doctors revealed that a young patient has developed leukaemia.

The three-year-old boy is one of 15 children born with defective immune systems given the therapy in a joint exercise between two hospitals in Britain and France.

The treatment appeared to be going well until the child, who would have been otherwise condemned to life in a sterile plastic bubble, developed the cancer.

Initial investigations suggest his illness has been triggered by the treatment, which uses a geneticallymodified virus to cure a genetic defect.

Experts suspect that as well as silencing the defective gene that causes Xlinked severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), the technique switched on a gene implicated in leukaemia.

French doctors treating the boy announced they were suspending their trials while the case is investigated.

But experts at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is also pioneering the treatment, said they would continue to offer it because they were convinced the benefits outweighed the risks.

The advisory committee set up by the Government to oversee gene therapy studies said that it would be ' unjustifiable' to withdraw consent for the British trials.

The case will come as a fresh blow to the field of gene therapy, which aims to cure disease by replacing or 'knocking out' faulty genes. …