Kay E. Davies (left) and Richard P. Lifton (second from left), co-chairs of the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing

International Commission on Heritable Genome Editing Holds First Public Meeting

Andrew Robinson | Aug. 20, 2019 

Last week, the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing held its first public meeting at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. The commission was convened earlier this year by the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of the U.K., with the participation of science and medical academies around the world. The commission will develop a framework for scientists, clinicians, and regulatory authorities to consider when assessing potential clinical applications of human germline genome editing.

The commission was formed in the wake of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, held last November in Hong Kong by the U.S. National Academies, the Royal Society, and the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong. The summit became a focus of global attention when a scientist from China announced the birth of twins whose healthy embryonic genomes had been edited. The scientist was widely condemned by the global scientific community for violating long-standing scientific principles and ethical norms.

Victor J. Dzau, president of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine and co-chair of the Commission’s International Oversight Board

“Indeed, the revelations from our summit and more recently the news that a Russian scientist is planning to produce gene-edited babies underscore the need for an internationally accepted framework to address the complex scientific and medical issues surrounding the clinical use of germline editing,” said NAM President Victor Dzau at last week’s meeting. “The framework could inform the development of a potential pathway from research to clinical use – if society concludes that heritable human genome editing applications are acceptable.”

The commission, which is being co-chaired by Kay Davies, professor of genetics at the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre at the University of Oxford, England, and Richard Lifton, president of the Rockefeller University in New York City, includes representatives from 10 nations.  It will focus on the scientific, medical, genetic, ethical, and regulatory aspects of human germline editing and the risks and benefits of this particular application. During the meeting, the commission heard from experts on the current state of understanding on genetics and genetic manipulation and gathered perspectives from regulators and industry representatives on translational pathways for somatic (nonheritable) genome editing from the laboratory to treatment.

Additionally, the commission was updated on the work of the World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for the Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing, which is examining the scientific, ethical, and legal challenges associated with both heritable and nonheritable human genome editing with the aim of advising on appropriate governance mechanisms. The commission’s work will help inform the WHO committee’s work.

“These two groups were established with different organizations as the supporting entities, and with different specific mandates, but our overlapping mission is to harness [genome editing] technology for the best interest of society,” said Margaret Hamburg, co-chair of the WHO advisory committee, and NAM’s foreign secretary.  “We’re all here to bring the best thinking and all of our collective experience to bear on one of the really important scientific technologies of our day.”

The results of this meeting and subsequent meetings, including an international workshop hosted by the Royal Society in London this Nov. 14-15, will inform a final report of the commission’s findings and recommendations to be issued in spring 2020.

Visit the commission’s website to view the slide presentations and archived video from the meeting.