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Phylogica is experimenting with the same gene editing tool a Chinese scientist just used to create HIV-immune babies.

The company (ASX:PYC) says it has successfully run a trial where its ‘cell penetrating’ technology delivered the CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) gene editing protein into target cells.

Cas9 is a technology that edits parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence.

Phylogica specialises in using peptides, or amino acid chains, to deliver drugs or other compounds into the right cells in the body.

Changing DNA

Last week, a Chinese researcher claimed to have used the tool to alter the genomes of twin baby girls born to a HIV-positive father, intended to make the childrens’ cells resistant to HIV infection.

Scientists around the world were outraged because it not only violated ethical lines about editing the genome of living humans, but also raised the risk of unknown future injury to the babies, as well as the possibility of them passing on their edited genome to later generations.

Phylogica, on the other hand, is merely testing whether its delivery system can take the gene editor into cells.

Chief Rohan Hockings says there is huge commercial interest in Cas9 for ex-vivo — test tube — science.

“What it does is gives researchers the ability to control the genome of the cells, which is pretty powerful, because then you can change the cell in whatever way you like and re-inject it into the body,” he told Stockhead.

Two big US companies are putting Cas9-edited T-cells through clinical trials now to treat the blood disorder β-thalassemia and a rare form of blindness.

One hot area is in T-cells, or lymphocytes (a subtype of white blood cell) that play a central role in immunity.

Mr Hockings says Cas9 is big in cancer as T-cells can be engineered to be more powerful and better able to track down and kill cancer antigens.

Commercialising elegant tech

The company underwent some major changes this year, unexpectedly hiring a new CEO in Mr Hockings and recapitalising.

“It’s a portfolio company for us. We felt that it had elegant science but no commercial imperatives,” Mr Hockings said.

His father Bernard is also on the board.

Former IKEA franchise owner Alan Tribe took control, making himself chairman and lifting his stake to 19.9 per cent by buying a sizeable chunk of Mr Hockings senior’s interest in the company for $7.95m.

Phylogica shares rose 3 per cent to 3c.

Phylogica shares over the last 12 months.