Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

DNA Drugs

Using DNA to rev up the immune system.

Turning DNA into a therapeutic treatment usually means delivering the genetic material directly into cells where it can act as native DNA does, coding for needed proteins. Now researchers are using DNA in a new class of drugs that rev up the immune system, potentially helping to boost vaccines’ power and even to fight cancer-all without ever entering a cell.

The new drugs consist of short synthetic DNA segments that mimic gene sequences found only in bacteria. The segments bind to receptors on the surface of immune cells; the cells interpret the molecules as signs of a bacterial infection and respond by ramping up the body’s defenses. The first use of the technology in humans is likely to be with vaccines, in order to boost the immune system’s response to inoculation, says Ethan Shevach, an immunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In tests on animals, the DNA segments are “unbelievably good,” Shevach says.

Dynavax in Emeryville, CA, has completed early human-safety trials of an immune-stimulating DNA sequence, which when combined with a standard hepatitis B vaccine, seems to help the vaccine take effect faster and with fewer injections. Because slightly different DNA sequences may preferentially trigger specific elements of the immune system, the drugs can be tailored for particular uses such as activating natural killer cells, which attack cancerous cells. Shevach believes that the DNA fragment technology “will have a greater use [with] vaccines than as a stand-alone drug,” but even that would be greatly welcomed by researchers.

This story is part of our November 2002 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe
A SLICE OF THE SYNTHETIC DNA MARKET
COMPANY TARGET STAGE
Coley Pharmaceutical (Wellesley, MA) Alergies, asthma, hepatitis B Human trials
Dynavax (Emeryville, CA) Allergies, cancer, hepatitis B Human trials
Hybridon (Cambridge, MA) Cancer Animal Research

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.