Gene therapy for spinomuscular atrophy: a biomedical advance, a missed opportunity for more equitable drug pricing

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Abstract

An experimental approach for gene therapy of spinomuscular atrophy has been reported to prevent development of the neuromuscular features of this lethal and previously untreatable disorder. The approach involves treatment of patients suffering from SMN1-associated infantile form of the disease with a splice-switching antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) that corrects aberrant splicing of the nearly identical SMN2 gene to allow the generation of functional SMN protein, thereby mitigating the development of the disease. This technique represents the first apparently effective therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and an important documentation for ASO technology for therapy of neurodegenerative disease. These results with one form of SMA are likely to be relevant for similar applications to other SMA types and are likely to inspire application to a number of other intractable neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and possibly even the extremely common Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and others. Nevertheless, the scientific and medical importance of this advance is marred by a pricing policy by the corporate sponsors that may complicate accessibility of the drug for some desperate patients.

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