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CNN Today

Dr. French Anderson Discusses the Possibilities for Gene Therapy

Aired June 26, 2000 - 2:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. French Anderson is director of gene therapy at the University of Southern California's medical school. He headed the team that carried out the first approved human gene therapy trials and is sometimes called the "father of gene therapy." Dr. Anderson joins us from Los Angeles.

Thank you for being with us.

DR. FRENCH ANDERSON, DIR. OF GENE THERAPY, UNIV. OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Hi.

ALLEN: How much do you anticipate getting your hands on this information that we've been talking about today?

STEWART: Well, I think one thing we need to understand is that the information has been becoming available on a regular basis and it will continue to become available, and of course many of us have our own small genome projects going in our own laboratories. And our biggest problem right now is in our own case we've identified several hundred genes in a cell type that we're interested in. Now what do we do?

ALLEN: Right, everyone has been making the point that it's going to be years and years before they figure out what to do with this information, correct?

STEWART: Yes, but the -- what will happen is that gradually, as laboratories all over the world make use of the information, information will come out on a regular basis.

ALLEN: What have been the missing links for you in your work? Where have the breakthroughs taken place, and where are the missing links?

STEWART: Well, what I do, of course, is the gene therapy. And there, our problems is being able to take the genes that other people discover and be able to put those genes into a delivery system that can be used to actually treat human disease and cure patients. And the first successful treatments now are starting to come out in cancer and heart disease and genetic disease.

But in the genome side of what we do, as we look for genes that are important to use in treating genetic disease, what we run into is the same problem that the human genome. It's not a problem. That's an incorrect statement. It's the realization you have an enormous amount of data. It's like having at this point a somewhat scrambled dictionary with thousands and thousands of words, and now we have to learn how to put that together.

ALLEN: Well, Dr. Anderson, Francis Collins said today in Washington that 2,000 people die every day of cancer . This holds the possibility that zero will die every day in the future. Is that the thing that you dream of, or is your work too complex in the meantime to think of things such as that?

STEWART: No, what keeps us going -- it's easier to be going now than 15 years ago -- but what has kept us going for years is the realization that gene-based medicine, both gene therapy and developing drugs to regulate genes, that gene-based therapy will revolutionize the practice of medicine. And what Francis Collins said and what many other people have said is that gene therapy and gene-based medicine is the hope for all of the enormous suffering that mankind, that personkind now has.

There is the potential for true cures, but it's got to be made clear, we're not talking for the next two years or five years, we're talking about 10, 15, 20 years down the road.

ALLEN: And we know -- much has been made of this public squabble between the private sector and the public sector that are both doing this work. Do you have any concerns about having all of this information readily available to you?

STEWART: Well, one has to realize a couple of things. The first is that competition is a good thing. The genome project has succeeded faster than expected because there's competition.

Secondly, there is so much data available that -- yes, probably a few people and a few organizations would be helped by having every bit of the data available right now. But there is so much data there that I'm not bothered at all by the fact that Celera or other companies want to hold on to their data for six months or a year. I don't think it's going to have any real, practical difference.

Now the issue would be if the disaster comes and the patent office allows definitive patents on only sequences. That would be a major problem for all of us.

ALLEN: Dr. French Anderson, thank you for joining us, and all the best to you in the work ahead of you.

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