China is planning to establish a new national medical ethics committee in the wake of the “CRISPR babies” scandal.
The committee will not be limited to overseeing gene editing alone, but also cover cloning, cell therapy, xenotransplantation, mitochondrial replacement, and nanotechnology
The new body, according to reports, will oversee all clinical trials taking place in the country which involve biomedical technologies which are deemed risky either due to safety or moral concerns.
This move comes in the wake of the “CRISPR babies” experiment, which Eurasia Group’s Aditya Bhattacharji reported on for PharmaBoardroom in December last year, noting its potential to inflame already-strained US-China political tensions. In the experiment, a biological researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Guangzhou edited the genes of twin female embryos in the hope of making them immune to HIV. Although the baby girls were reportedly born healthy, the experiment sparked national and global condemnation from fellow academics as well as government authorities who saw it as a serious violation of ethical standards.
Huang Jiefu, China’s former vice-minister of health, has said that the proposal to establish a committee has received positive feedback from China’s top leadership and that the committee will include medical, ethical and legal experts, as well as members of the public, and committee members should have no direct interest in the projects to be inspected. The committee will not be limited to overseeing gene editing alone, but also cover cloning, cell therapy, xenotransplantation, mitochondrial replacement, and nanotechnology.
Huang added that the rapid development of life science technologies in China has far outpaced the development of laws and regulations; meaning that new supervision is urgent. Although certain hospitals in China already have ethics committees, many are loosely organized and lack the means to conduct appropriate ethical inspections for highly risky clinical trials which utilise these advanced technologies, he noted.