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DARPA Program Seeks Gene Modulators to Boost Human Body’s Defenses Against Biological, Chemical Threats

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a four-year program that aims to develop transient and programmable gene modulators designed to temporarily boost the body’s defenses against chemical, biological and radiological threats.

The PReemptive Expression of Protective Alleles and Response Elements program “will study how to support [the human body’s] innate resistance by giving it a temporary boost, either before or after exposure, without any permanent edits to the genome,” Renee Wegrzyn, PREPARE program manager, said in a statement published Friday.

The PREPARE program will focus on influenza viral infection, gamma radiation exposure, organophosphate poisoning and opioid overdose that will serve as proofs of concept for a proposed platform designed to address national security and public health threats.

“Focusing only on programmable modulation of gene expression enables us to provide specific, robust protection against many threats at once, with an effect that carries less risk, is limited but tunable in duration, and is entirely reversible,” Wegrzyn added.

DARPA said it expects potential research teams to submit a regulatory review application with the Food and Drug Administration for their proposed medical countermeasure platforms by the end of the program.

The agency intends to discuss the program with stakeholders at a proposer’s day that will take place on June 13 in Arlington, Va.

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