Sequenced genomes reveal mutations that disable single genes and can point to new drugs.
28 October 2014 Corrected:
29 October 2014
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The poster child for human-knockout efforts is a new class of drugs that block a gene known as PCSK9 (see Nature 496, 152–155; 2013). The gene was discovered in French families with extremely high cholesterol levels in the early 2000s. But researchers soon found that people with rare mutations that inactivate one copy ofPCSK9 have low cholesterol and rarely develop heart disease. The first PCSK9-blocking drugs should hit pharmacies next year, with manufacturers jostling for a share of a market that could reach US$25 billion in five years.
“I think there are hundreds more stories like PCSK9 out there, maybe even thousands,” in which a drug can mimic an advantageous
loss-of-function mutation, says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California. Mark Gerstein, a bioinformatician at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, predicts that human knockouts will be especially useful for identifying drugs that treat diseases of ageing. “You could imagine there’s a gene that is beneficial to you as a 25-year-old, but the thing is not doing a good job for you when you’re 75.”